“The sufferings of neurosis and psychosis are for us a schooling in the passions of the soul, just as the beam of the psychoanalytic scales, when we calculate the tilt of its threat to entire communities, provides us with an indication of the deadening of the passions in society.” —Jacques Lacan
Today, we are going to take a different turn to how I have been approaching psychoanalysis and pedagogy. In nearly all my other writings, I’ve been introducing you to the fundamentals of psychoanalysis through common everyday examples. Here, I will show you how desire, love, Other, and transference, plays a fundamental role in clinical psychoanalysis. I will give you an idea on how psychoanalysis works under a clinical setting and show you why “talk therapy” involves much more than just talking.
I will introduce the famous “Freudian slip” and the symptoms of obsessive neurosis, hysteria and show you how they operate in opposing ways at a fundamental level. Finally, we will also look at two critical discourses of Lacanian psychoanalysis: the hysteric and the analyst discourse. This means we will get to interpret more of Lacan’s crazy graphs together. 😲
As usual, this post assumes you read my other Lacanian writings that are hyperlinked here: Part I, II, III, and IV. I will be making a new menu on this site that consists of all my writings on Lacanian psychoanalysis.
Happy reading split subjects!
The Freudian Slip and Half-Said
“There are no mistakes.” —Sigmund Freud
In Part I, I introduced the fundamentals on how the human subject is always split and divided by the symbolic Other. As the child recognizes themselves in the mirror, they begin to form wholeness in their identity and who they are. This assemblage is castrated and split by the laws and desires that their parental figures imposes on them which transforms into the child’s Other.
Once the child learns to speak, they learn to give up (repress) certain desires that are forbidden as they grow up. They become a split subject through the effects of the symbolic Other, where everything they say consists of a repressed thoughts. emotions, and feelings that goes missing through the words that they say. Often times, the Other can take many forms, which begins with the patient’s parents, all the way to their work, friends, and things like the news and social media.
In the same way that when we love someone, we are unconsciously in love with someone else, when we express our desires through our words, we are also desiring for something else. The meanings that we intend actually means something else that are unconscious to us due to repression. The fixation to the cause of desire are human attempts to sustain their desires for something or someone else. Human communication is messy in that we do not mean what we say at an unconscious level. Further more, the interpretations of our own and other people’s words are also warped by our unconscious desires and projections.
The idea that something is always missing and repressed when we speak is what Lacan refers as “half-said”. In a clinical setting, everything that the patient says are only half said, where their conscious thoughts are produced through the articulation of symbolic words, as their repressed experience goes missing (the +1 and -1 that I spoke about in Part I). Since everything is always half-said, it would make sense to say that, the general goal of psychoanalysis is to draw the patient’s attention to what is not said. As a split subject, one does not simply use language to articulate their thoughts. Rather, it is language that speaks through us and alienates us from what is not said.
Hence, it is fair to say that people don’t say what they mean. In fact, the things people say often means something else that they are entirely unconscious of. This is largely due to the result of repression where unconscious affects are attached to conscious thoughts and memories, revealing itself only in fragments. This can happen anytime when the neurotic talks about their thoughts, dreams, and fantasies. The desire, love, and demands that are reflected off words turns out to be a desire for something or someone else. There is always some form of ambiguity that is left in our daily spoken words that neurotics are unaware of due to the experience of repression.
This leads us to Freud’s famous idea called, the “slip of the tongue” or simply, “the Freudian slip” where people accidently says something that they did not consciously mean. It is the point where fragments of unconscious thoughts briefly surfaces into consciousness. Hence, Freud thinks there are no “accidents” when we speak. What we perceive as accidents in our words and meanings are slips of the tongue that are worthy of interrogation.
In a clinical setting, these slips happens quite often, but not in the way most people think—such as when someone says “French Fries”, they actually meant their “mother”, as some might put it. It is through speaking and analyzing these accidents where humans produces truths and interpretations about their unconscious mind. Truths are discovered and produced through what we believe to be errors in our conscious thoughts. In psychoanalysis, there is no such thing as coincidence. Error produces truth.
This idea of half-said and slips of the tongue can be seen in most people’s childhood when our parents makes demands and desires which sets expectations for us in the house. Parents will often tell you what they desire and demand from you. And in order for us to be liked by the Other, we conform to their desires. We desire what they desire because our desires is the Other’s desire. Yet ironically, you may notice how parents will only tell you the things that they do not want from you rather than what they truly want. At times, they might not even tell you, but simply punish you after you had already committed wrongful gestures. As a result, the child is often left wondering: “What does the Other want?” (Che Vuoi?; I spoke about this in Part II).
The child produces a fantasy to what the Other wants who may become said desire, even if it is a misrecognition which leads them away from what they unconsciously desire (their repression). The child may eventually come to realize that people do not mean what they say. And what a parent declares as their desires, such as the expectations for the child, is a desire for something else. For example, a parent can tell their child to become a doctor when they grow up, even when it can mean something else entirely (Part II)—such as the parent’s desire for you to become what they had always failed to be when they were young. Or they may tell you to not become who they wanted to be because they had always failed to become said person. They want you to be an ordinary person who is capable of surviving in the world, and not an extraordinary person who inspires change. They want you to fit into their future plans and somehow accommodate them instead of serving what you truly desire.
People often abide to the Other’s desires without consciously recognizing what they truly desire. This is the primary symptom of a neurotic, for it is what defines repression. The Other or super-ego sets the stage for repression of the split subject by forcing them to pass through it like a filter. Certainly, psychoanalysis involves helping the analysand discover what they truly desire—such as what is not said in their daily spoken words.
Nonetheless, the enigmas of the parent’s demands and desires are often left unresolved by the child which tends to spring up in their adult life through different ways, from their dreams, fantasies, and conscious thoughts. This idea is known as the “return of the repressed” and is incredibly important for us to understand, for it is usually within the patient’s childhood experiences that leads to their symptoms in adult life. The adult patient transfers these values, desires, and demands, and competition with siblings onto their future relationships without knowing due to the experience of repression and half-said. The more the child abides to the Other’s desires, the less they will satisfy themselves and the stronger these repressions will become. The more the split subject reinforce their conscious thoughts (ego), the further away they are from the truth of their unconscious desires.
The Opening of the Unconscious Mind
“Neurosis is the inability to tolerate ambiguity.” —Sigmund Freud
One of the things that we can take away from the phenomena of half-said 0r the slip of the tongue is the idea that the things we say is never what we really mean. Or as we will later see, the things that people desire is not what they truly desire. No doubt, this has to do with the effects of the symbolic and repression. We will gradually gain a clearer picture on how this type of repression takes place.
During a session, it isn’t so much about what the patient meant to say than what they actually said during the session. Often times, when we consciously become aware of the things that we mistakenly said, we would immediately correct it. The thought of, “What I really meant was…”, implies their consciousness trying to correct their slips of the tongue. When the patient attempts to correct what they said, they are resisting their unconscious mind to surface as they deny the ambiguities to their thoughts. They are neglecting that perhaps, what they said actually means something else other than what they think they meant through their consciousness. The errors and the things the patient says reveals truths about their unconscious mind.
On the surface, it may seem like the analyst just sits there and sponges up whatever the patient says to them. The analyst is not a passive listener. Near the beginning stages of all clinical sessions which can take up to 1 to 2 years, the goal is to produce the proper space for the analysand to desire and doubt their conscious thoughts.
This is achieved through the way the analyst articulates their words by always leaving something left for the analysand to desire. Just as the meanings of words spoken by a politician is determined by their political oppositions, media, and the masses. The meanings of the analysand’s words during a session is also often determined by the analyst, simply because they are the “subject supposed to know”; the person who is supposed to know all the solutions to the patient’s symptoms. This is why the analyst must pay extra attention to what they tell the patient. When the patient speaks, it is the analyst’s job to redirect and reflect their attention to the things they say. The analyst must make space for the patient to question their conscious thoughts, Freudian slips, projections, transferences, fantasies, dreams, desires and where they come from.
In the early stages of psychoanalysis, analysts will avoid closing off interpretation and meaning to the things the patient says. Instead, they will speak and respond to the patient in ways where their words are left ambiguous. One of the ways the analyst achieves this is by offering suggestions, possibility and ambiguity to a variety of meanings in the patient’s words. Other times, it can be a simple way of wording something through the clever use of punctuation. Another way is the famous Lacanian method where the analyst cuts the session short in an attempt to interrupt the symptoms that the analyst sees in the patient. While it may seem like a waste of money to attend a session only to have the analyst end it prematurely, the goal of this gesture is to make the patient ask, “What was it I said that made them cut my session short?”. The very fact that the patient may begin to suspect and doubt the things they said which led to their short sessions is the main objective of this Lacanian move.
Over time, the analysand will eventually open up their own unconscious mind, prop up their desires, which drives them to explore the ambiguity to their conscious thoughts and words (because everything is half-said). This is a good example as to what I meant when I spoke of how psychoanalysis is about besieging the fortified castle—which amounts to getting the patient to besiege their own conscious thoughts and their social constructs of reality (in Part IV).
The last thing an analyst wants to do at the beginning of psychoanalysis is to give the patient a solid definitive interpretation to the things they say. Not only would this fortify the closure of interpretation and fail to open up the space of the patient’s desire so to analyze their conscious thoughts and Freudian slips, the analyst may also set themselves up as another person (ego) competing with the patient. It is sort of like how siblings might compete for the mother’s attention at a young age.
If for example, the analyst states what they really think (their interpretations of the patient’s words), the patient may take those words as a way to adjust their ego appropriately without affecting their unconscious mind. In this scenario, psychoanalysis is rendered useless where the analyst functions not much different to the patient’s significant other, friends, siblings or parents who asserts certainty of meanings onto them. This can be seen when you see parents who tries to calm their child down after they had a bad dream by helping them interpret its contents. Instead of opening up room for possibilities and interpretation of the child’s unconscious, the parents asserts various meanings on the child’s dream for their ego to adjust to.
The analyst’s job is to never be where the patient thinks. Their job is to be unpredictable so they can arouse the patient’s curiosity and prop up their desires so to make them question their thoughts. By doing this, the analyst becomes the enigma of desire; or precisely, the object cause of desire (will return to this later). Typically, the analyst will begin to know they have become object a for the patient the moment they start talking about having dreams where the analyst is in it.
This is why psychoanalysts will often strike most people as elusive and enigmatic figures—especially during psychotherapy. In the beginning stages, their entire function is to become sort of like a mirror where they redirect projections and transferences that the analysand places on the analyst back towards themselves and make them question and examine these projections, which are usually misrecognitions. As we can begin to see, the psychoanalytic setting is somewhat reminiscent to the mirror stage!
The psychoanalyst’s job is to remain ambiguous who holds the position of the Other. Such position is different to the Other of the patient’s partner, who might not want them to get psychoanalyzed or continues to impose various meanings and interpretations onto them. The analyst must function as the placeholder of the analysand’s love and knowledge. As I mentioned in Part III, the analyst is to temporarily function as the analysand’s “right person”. When achieved, the analyst becomes one of the most powerful positions in psychoanalysis. It is from this position where the analyst can make clinical maneuvers on the patient’s unconscious mind as they project all their transferences onto them under a clinical environment.
One simple example would be from Freud’s most famous patient known as the “Rat Man”. The Rat Man was an obsessive neurotic who had been abused by his father at a young age and always had fantasies and dreams about rats. During one of his sessions, the Rat Man unconsciously transferred his past trauma of his father beating him onto Freud, where Freud took position as the Rat Man’s father without the Rat Man recognizing (just like how our desires warps our perceptions of the other person when we first meet them; see Part III). Instead of Freud responding to him like his father would (to beat him), Freud spoke to him calmly. The Rat Man was surprised (love) that Freud didn’t beat him like his father would.
What we can see here is how the analyst must never conform to the desires, demands, transferences and projections that the analysand imposes onto them. Instead, the analyst must constantly surprise the analysand (love) and show them how these projections that the analysand imposes onto the analyst are their wishful projections and fantasies—a misrecognition that originates from their previous partners or from their childhood.
Nevertheless, it is only when the patient begins to doubt and question their thoughts, desires, and meanings in their half-said words, where they transform from a patient into a psychoanalysand. Once this is achieved, the real psychoanalytic work begins.
“Obsessional does not necessarily mean sexual obsession, not even obsession for this, or for that in particular; to be an obsessional means to find oneself caught in a mechanism, in a trap increasingly demanding and endless.” —Jacques Lacan
Obsessive neurotics are most commonly diagnosed in men. They are the type of people who denies and rejects the unconscious mind through the act of thinking. The obsessive’s primary symptom is the repression of the Other where they try to maintain their fantasy of being a complete subject who does not lack.
An obsessive feels most alive when he is thinking in his conscious thoughts. The obsessive wants to be the master of his own house and neglect the unconscious mind and the Other altogether (I am referencing Martin Heidegger’s, “Language is the house of being”). Obsessives don’t recognize how the things they think about comes from an “elsewhere”—namely, their repressions via unconscious mind. This is why you sometimes hear psychoanalysts talk about how their initial objectives for dealing with an obsessive is to “hystericize” them in order to start clinical psychoanalysis. Hence, in Part III, I pointed out how femininity (hysteria) is a dialectic with masculinity (obsessive).
If you attend a course that introduces psychoanalysis, the obsessive neurotic is the person who rejects the existence of the unconscious mind, or the one who thinks that they can solve their own problems by thinking through them without any help from Others. In fact, the more severe the symptoms of an obsessive person is, the more unlikely they will seek for help. Perhaps aside from other social impositions such as gender expectations and gender roles, this is one of the reasons why men are usually the last ones who seeks for mental health support—largely because they are obsessive neurotics who thinks they have everything “under control”, even when this is far from the case. It may also be the reason why the suicide rates of men are significantly higher than women.
Since the main symptom of obsessive neurosis is annihilating the Other, they may for example, avoid seeking for the Other’s presence; such as the psychoanalyst who functions as the “subject supposed to know”. Obsessives are people who refuses to get help from others because they think they can do everything by themselves (they neglect the Other). Thus, an obsessive would be reminiscent to the things most men might say, “Some problems are best kept to myself and dealt with internally”.
The obsessive is the person who represses their unconscious mind by attempting to overcome it through uninterrupted thinking to the point where it almost becomes masturbatory. They often strike others as fiercely independent who does not need anybody in their lives other than themselves. The stereotypical obsessive neurotic are your “self-made” man where they live their life against the Other’s wishes, such as the desires of their parents, lovers, and so on. In fact, the obsessive’s entire life may very well turn into a protest against his parents while nevertheless satisfying their desires in ways that are unconscious to them.
When spoken to, they are the type of people who can talk on and on as if they want to trample over everyone else’s words and the Other’s presence. It might be even better for them to talk to a rock and not to another person (Other) or psychoanalyst, even if that is exactly what they need. In short, obsessives don’t want the Other to intrude their thoughts. They do not want the Other to appear in their conscious mind because they want to become a complete subject who are in control, even when they are always already split subjects. Yet, they never escape the impositions of the Other. In fact, as much as they think they are in control of their thoughts, they are always already succumbing to the Other’s desires without consciously recognizing it. The more they try to annihilate or ignore the Other, the more repressed and alienated they become.
During intercourse, the obsessive may completely negate the Other person by consciously (and unconsciously) fantasizing that they are with someone else or fetishize certain body parts (in the same way that the hysteric will imagine themselves as another woman—I will get to this). They may always want to have the TV turned on, have music on, so to keep the Other at bay. The moment the Other intrudes the obsessive’s mind, they are usurped by the Other’s presence which may lead to impotence (erectile dysfunction). The obsessive must always draw themselves away from the Other via fantasies and imagination in order to sustain his desires. This is why analysts refers to the desire of the obsessive neurotic as “impossibility” (versus the hysteric which is “unsatisfaction”). It is impossible because the moment the obsessive confronts the presence of the Other (i.e. the symbolic filter and their repressions), they are reminded that they are castrated incomplete subjects. Which is the opposite to what they have been trying to convince themselves in their lives, and subsequently shapes their symptoms.
Often times, in order for the obsessive to annihilate the Other, they may set standards for their romantic partners so high that no woman can ever reach. This is why Freud once spoke of two types of women for obsessive neurotics: the Madonna and the mother figure. The former who functions as sexual excitement and object a who cannot be loved but only lust over (for sex and short term relationships), and the latter as someone who he loves and adores as his love object. Hence, the famous Freudian saying that excessive love kills desire, and excessive desire kills love.
In a clinical setting, the obsessive must be “hystericized” where they are forced into the presence of the Other. This is done so to open up the Other’s desires and makes the obsessive ask what the Other wants versus what they truly want. Indeed, the goal is to break through the obsessives’ defensive mechanisms so they become aware that there are ambiguities and alternate meanings and desires to the words they say which has been repressed.
“The hysteric, whose body is transformed into a theatre for forgotten scenes, relives the past, bearing to a lost childhood that survived in suffering.” —Catherine Clément
Hysteria is most commonly diagnosed in women whose desires are much more complex than an obsessive neurotic. A hysteric is someone who wants to become the Other’s desire where they want to master their knowledge. This idea stems from the hysteric’s youth, on how they want to become the object for their mOther’s desire, as no mother is complete without their child. The hysteric is someone who wants to become what lacks in the Other. They will achieve this by making sure that the Other never gets satisfied because people want what they cannot have.
In reality, the hysteric’s Other is usually their boyfriend, husband, or significant other, who are the ones that expresses their desires; and in their early life, the Other is usually their mother, father, siblings, or caretakers. This is why you will notice how hysterics will often embody their significant Other’s knowledge in some way, where they desire what the Other desire, and knows what they know. The hysteric is someone who needs a master (often times, it is an obsessive neurotic)—someone who has power and knowledge that they can achieve mastery over. This idea is often known as the “lack for the Other’s knowledge”.
While this widely varies between individuals, the stereotypical hysteric might appear as someone who always needs to be with someone, or they always need to be in a relationship, to have a bestfriend, and so on. A hysteric always wants to be in the Other’s presence because they want to become the Other’s desire in ways that they are unconscious of. They want to be the object cause of desire for the Other (“I am yours!”). And when they do, some of them will show off every facet of their lives and flaunt it on social media, at parties and public spaces so the Other can see. A number of hysterics wants to put on a show for the Other. This is why they often take pleasure in occupations where attention is drawn to themselves where they try to keep the Other unsatisfied by becoming their lack.
Indeed, one of the major symptoms of hysteria is their strategy to deprive the Other of satisfaction so to maintain themselves as the object cause of desire. Perhaps the most common example would be to deny sex; or to make themselves as unattainable object of desire because people want what they cannot have. In many occasions, the way the hysteric becomes the object for the Other may allude to how their mother resembled as an object for their father in childhood. Other times, they may become an object that the father desired for them to become when they grow up. As a result, this may lead the adult hysteric to go after certain types of relationships and select certain partners over others, even if these choices might not be what they truly desire.
This phenomenon can be seen in Bruce Fink’s patient of a woman named Jeanne (a fake name to protect the identity of the real person) where her husband cheated on her and treated her poorly. Jeanne always complained about her husband’s overly protective and unfaithful behaviors, but always refused to divorce him. What she remained unconscious of is how her refusal to divorce her husband and her frustrated relationship with him was due to her transference in the way Jeanne’s mother was treated by her father. In many ways, Jeanne became the object of desire for her mOther (she became her mother) which is why she refused to divorce her husband; in the same way that Jeanne’s mother refused to divorce her father. Jeanne even recalled a time where her father told her how “she is the son he never had”, where she ends up unconsciously spending her entire life to become her father’s son and becomes frustrated in her life for the same reason. Here, we can clearly see how Jeanne is a hysteric who embraced the Other’s desires, respectively of her mother and father’s.
The more the hysteric tries to become the object of the Other’s desire, the more they repress their true desires. As the hysteric attempts to become an object for the Other, they become someone who they are not. Simply put, they become another woman—such as the woman defined by their partner, or the woman set by the standards of society, social media, parents, friends, etc. Just as the more obsessive a man is, the more they repress the Other. The more severe the symptoms of the hysteric, the more they will try to satisfy the Other’s desires, and the more repressed they become. We can recall in Part IV, on the example of the woman who enjoyed sleeping with many men only when she got really drunk. She did so only for her to realize that this was how her father sexually abused her when she was young. The woman became the object of the father’s desire where she transferred said experience into her adult life.
This idea is incredibly important for us to understand, as it brings us into discourses such as women’s liberation and feminism. Though we must keep in mind that psychoanalysts are not trying to be political or oppress women. Many of them are simply describing a common pattern that they observe from all their patients everyday at their jobs. In the quest for becoming the object for the Other, the hysteric will embody and become another woman, such as their partner’s ideal woman. They may even fantasize themselves as another person. Feminists often criticizes this psychoanalytic observation, even when some of them discounts the idea that, since hysterics unconsciously positions themselves to become the Other’s desire, they may even embody the desires of a man where they become one (this idea originates from psychoanalysts Joan Riviere and Earnest Jones who referred to it as “homosexual femininity”). As a result, this leads to the famous question that all hysterics asks: “Am I a man or a woman?”.
We can think of the film, Molly’s Game (based on true story) where Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) produces her underground gambling empire through her desire to “control powerful men”. For much of the film, she does so by mastering the man’s desire and knowledge where she becomes like a man who takes charge. Not only is she the object of desire for other men, she embodies all of the men’s desires as her own. Near the end of the film, it is revealed that her desires are driven by her feelings towards her father and her unconscious recognition that he cheated on her mother. His father, who happens to be a respectable psychoanalyst, analyzes her by providing his interpretation of her unconscious mind that hits the Real. During this scene, he shows what happens when the psychoanalyst intervenes the analysand’s failure to articulate the Real into the Symbolic (i.e. Bloom’s failure to articulate her repression into words on her symptoms). His father’s interpretation of her behaviors reveals as a surprise to Bloom, where she realizes that her desire to have control over powerful men was unconsciously driven by her relationship with her father. Bloom wanted to embody the power and knowledge of her father and rebel against him which sublimated into her desire to have control over powerful men in her life. No doubt, what she had set to achieve in her underground gambling career to control powerful men functioned as a metaphor to have control of her father so he would not cheat on her mother. And it is at this moment where the knot that produced all of her symptoms for much of the film gets untied which “cured” her. During this ending scene, Bloom’s father not only became the “right person”, he became the “right father” who confessed his guilt as to why he treated her the way he did as she grew up. Love cured Bloom’s symptoms.
Unlike obsessives, hysterics are much more open to psychoanalysis and different forms of therapy because the analyst or therapist will function as the hysteric’s Other where they will try to master their desires. Yet, this is what makes them a huge challenge to psychoanalyze. During clinical sessions, the hysteric will try to force the analyst to reveal their knowledge and master their desires. They will attempt to turn the analyst against themselves and win their approval. In other words, the hysteric wants to become the psychoanalyst’s Other (their desires) where they adjust their ego accordingly. This gesture is the complete opposite to what needs to be done in order to relieve the hysteric’s symptoms.
It isn’t about the hysteric who goes to the analyst and asks, “What is wrong with me?” (which is another way for asking, “What do you want?”), in which the analyst might say, “You have X and Y ” where the hysteric may conform to the analyst’s desires. Rather, the analyst’s job is to turn the hysteric around and make them ask themselves, “What do I really want?” and not what the Other wants from them. Hence as I mentioned in Part II, the goal of psychoanalysis is to make the patient ask what the Other wants versus what they want.
Yet ironically, when the hysteric is confronted with said question and are given the freedom to choose, they usually won’t know what they truly want because it has been repressed. And even if they consciously think they know what they desire, it is often the Other’s desire. In this case, the hysteric either tries to produce their own desires and discover what they truly want, or they find another person’s desires to master where they give up on psychotherapy (they give up besieging their fortified castle and forfeits discovering the truth of their desires).
The goal for the psychoanalyst is to turn the hysteric around from the Other’s desires so they can be given a chance to discover what they truly desire. The hysteric must, in some sense, stop receiving knowledge from the Other altogether (i.e. the mother, father, siblings, spouse, friends, social media, psychoanalyst, etc.). Of course in most cases, none of this is trying to suggest that the hysteric should divorce or break up with their significant Other, even if some cases may warrant this, such as the example of Jeanne. Rather, it is to make them realize that all of their conscious choices where they feel like they are “in control” turns out to be predetermined by their tyrannical super-ego (Other) that they are unconscious of. The more they try to unconsciously become the Other’s desire, such as Jeanne trying to become her mother and father’s desire, the worse her repressions become. This is where we start to see what Lacan meant when he said that our desire is the Other’s desire. It is also why I said in Part IV, on how in order for us to desire, we must always be with the wrong person. But if this is the case, how can psychoanalysts relieve the symptoms of the hysteric?
In order to make the hysteric produce the truth of their repressions, they must as what Lacanians would say, change their subjective positions into an analyst position. These so called “positions” are what Lacan famously refers as “discourse” that are illustrated below. They are what Lacan considered as one of his greatest contributions to the field of psychoanalysis, especially the analyst’s discourse.
In the hysteric’s discourse, we see the hysteric as the split subject ($) in the top left who addresses the Other and forces them to reveal their knowledge and desires as defined in the top right as S1 (the master signifier such as the psychoanalyst; in real life, it would be the hysteric’s significant other, parents, etc.). As a result, it produces S2 (knowledge) in the bottom right where the hysteric masters the Other’s knowledge. Meanwhile, you see the hysteric repressing object a in the bottom left corner which resembles the truth of their desires that points to the hysteric, such as the repression of memories and knowledge that causes the hysteric’s desires and symptoms as a split subject.
However, in the analyst’s discourse, the psychoanalyst functions as the object cause of desire (a) in the top left who puts the hysteric or hystericized obsessive neurotic to work in the top right ($). The hysteric or hystericized obsessive is forced into the position of the Other via clinical psychoanalysis as they free associate and analyze the ambiguity of their thoughts (they besiege the fortified castle in their mind). The analyst turns the hysteric around from “What do you want?” (or “What is wrong with me?”), to “What do I want?”. As a result, the hysteric/obsessive produces S1, the master signifier, where the they create new knowledge to the ambiguities of their conscious thoughts that gets unraveled from their unconscious mind. Finally, the psychoanalyst has S2 (knowledge) in the bottom left that they repress as they must always be aware of what they say to the analysand during clinical sessions. Moreover, the analyst must be aware of their own transferences that they project onto the analysand (known as “countertransference”). After all, no analyst should fall in love with their patient, even if their job is to temporarily function as the placeholder of their love and knowledge.
Here, I would like to quickly draw your attention to how each position of the hysteric and analyst discourse are rotated clock-wise by what Lacan refers as the “quarter turn” (it is related to German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel). In Lacanian psychoanalysis, there are a total of five discourses: master, university, hysteric, analyst, and capitalist; the last on this list was only briefly mentioned by Lacan (capitalist discourse), but later expanded by Slavoj Zizek. I won’t speak much further about these discourses today. They are best left for another time.
Quick Summary and Strategies for Neurosis
The neurotic symptoms that I described are quite common in the everyday person. In many cases, they are often seen as normal. These symptoms may also exist in different forms where hysterics will display obsessive traits and vice versa. Yet each individual will carry a fundamental clinical structure and fantasy that drives their symptoms. In Lacanian school, there is no such thing as someone who has a “borderline” personality. They are either one or the other. Often times, when a Lacanian analyst thinks someone is borderline hysteric or obsessive, it is often due to inexperience. This is why diagnosing someone requires a lot of clinical experience and good analytic skills.
To be sure, neurosis cannot be completely cured. This means the hysteric will always be a hysteric, and an obsessive will always be an obsessive. One of the main difference between someone who has gone through a successful analysis and a person who hasn’t is that the former has becomes aware of their symptoms, repressions, and what produces them, whereas the latter who never went into analysis are still unknown to why they do certain things in their lives and suffers from endless impositions of the Other. Once truth and knowledge about their symptoms are gained, it becomes a matter of negotiating with the Other, so to speak.
To quickly summarize. The hysteric is someone who cannot stand talking to no one because they must always have the Other looking at her where they force the Other’s knowledge so they can master their desires. Whereas the obsessive could talk to himself all day where they do not want anyone to take position of the Other. The obsessive uses conscious thoughts to produce an illusion of a complete subject who has full control of their subjectivity by annihilating the Other, even when they are already repressed by the Other’s desires. Whereas the hysteric attempts to become the object cause of desire for the Other as they become another person, even when they are not such person. Yet, what is unique about hysteria is that the hysteric does not only try to achieve mastery of the Other, they also exceed the Other’s desire by overturning their mastery and taking its place. In some ways, the hysteric transgresses beyond the Other.
This is why Lacanians will talk about how masculinity (obsessive neurosis) is a question of “belief”, and femininity (hysteria) is a question of “pretense”. The former believes they have full control of their subjectivity, even when they don’t. And the latter pretends they are another person (the Other’s desire), even when they aren’t said person.
For the sake of formality, let us translate all of this back into Lacanian jargon. Masculinity believes they have the phallic signifier even when they don’t, due to castration (they believe there are no ambiguity to the words they say even when they are full of ambiguities; in other words, they lack the signifier, but represses such lack). Whereas femininity masquerades and pretends to have the phallic signifier, even when they don’t due to castration because they want to become the Other’s desire (they “pretend” to be another woman who is complete, even when they lack). In both cases, they lack the phallic signifier due to castration, but deals with this lack (repression) in opposing ways which as a result, springs up their symptoms. The hysteric wants to overcome the Other by mastering their desires which leads to repression. Whereas the obsessive tries to overcome the Other by annihilating the Other in their conscious thoughts while already serving the Other’s desire. Masculinity or obsessive neurosis achieves this by producing a +1 (phallus) in the signifying chain and denies/represses the -1 (lack). And femininity or hysteria produces the -1 in the signifying chain while pretending to be +1.
In the case of hysteria, the analyst’s strategy is to turn the Other’s desire against the hysteric and force them to discover their unconscious desires. In the latter case, the analyst is to function as the Other and maintain their presence in the obsessive’s mind which brings the Other (their lack; repressions) to the forefront of their minds which “hystericizes” them. The obsessive must always face the analyst’s desires (the Other’s desire) where they become split subjects. As such, hysteria and obsessive neurosis requires the psychoanalyst to take different subjective positions in order to “cure” their symptoms. In both cases, the analyst must function as the object cause of desire within the analysand’s unconscious mind.
This is why analysts will talk about how a successful analysis will always consist of the analysand who feels like they never went through any analysis where they can talk freely. They feel this way because the obstacles, symptoms, projections, and transferences that they had carried into the beginning of their psychoanalytic therapy has been cleared, where the split subject can now function in a much more healthy manner within the social fabric. Essentially, the “cure” for neurosis is to, as Jacques Alain-Miller puts it, “dissolve the Real into the Symbolic”. The goal is to help the analysand articulate the Real and repressed material into spoken words. It is about bringing what is not said into the forefront of their conscious mind and understand how it drives their everyday behaviors and symptoms.
Some of those who reads this might think they can take this knowledge and apply it into their lives to get immediate results. In reality, this entire process from the repressed split subject who doesn’t know what they desire all the way to discovering the truth of their desires takes years and hundreds of clinical sessions. It is important to remember that self-analysis does not work. The unconscious mind cannot be accessed without the position of the Other. You cannot psychoanalyze yourself.
On Error and Truth
“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.” —Sigmund Freud
In light of what we have learned, we can begin to grasp that clinical psychoanalysis is an unending process which seeks to unravel the depths of the human mind. This is no doubt, something that Lacan once alluded to in some of his seminars. What appears to be memories which faded away from our minds never actually leaves, but will one day appear again that latches onto our conscious thoughts in ways that we never anticipated. There is no such thing as accidents and coincidences when it comes to our mental thoughts and the words we say.
If we take what we learned in conjunction to my previous psychanalytic writings. Perhaps what we can begin to see is how, just as there are no accidents in the words we say, there are also no accidents to those who we come to love in our lives. At times, some may feel compelled to justify their desires for someone. They may even feel compelled to find reasons why they don’t love someone over someone else. This may happen to a point where they hate the Other person. Just as the patient may deny the errors and ambiguity to their words in the beginning of their clinical sessions, our conscious mind may deny and repress our feelings for someone out of fear, transferences, anxiety, and repression. And in our world today, people may even deny real life love encounters in favor for ones that are found online.
While it is true that the encounters of love requires a certain level of contingency where two people runs into each other, it is not by chance that these encounters also happens to be fatal, where the Other shakes the foundation of our existence . We may come to instances where we get a glimpse of eternity in the Other’s eyes; someone who makes our heart race as we blush and stumble over our words like a fool. The Other may inspire new knowledge from our unconscious mind, and offer us solutions and new ways to see the world. Rightfully so, love becomes a surprise par excellence!
Just as there is a reason for our dreams, fantasies, denials, errors, and slips of the tongue, there is a reason why we love certain people in our lives and not others (we can think of the example of Jeanne). Make no mistake, the decision as to who one loves is not something that the split subject has any control over, even if they feel like they have complete control (this is an obsessive trait). For we must remember that humans are not the masters of their own house. In many ways, we do not get to choose who we love in our lives. Love is not a conscious choice. If there are any conclusions that we can come to, it is the idea that the human mind is its own greatest self-deception. As Friedrich Nietzsche would say, there is always some madness in love, but there is always some reason in madness.
For where there is consciousness, there lies the unconscious. And where lies the unconscious, there lies error and truth. In essence, truths are produced through the words and meanings that we unknowingly deny—words that we do not say over what we consciously say. They are produced through articulating memories and experiences that had been repressed deep in our minds to the point of forgetfulness. Luckily, nothing ever gets forgotten. Memories are stored in our unconscious mind that awaits to be found, like searching for a lost key in a dark room.
As many people likes to say, “actions are louder than words”. But perhaps the words from our thoughts aren’t deprived from action. When the meanings and unconscious ambiguity of our words are brought to the forefront of our consciousness, it has the ability to untie the knot to some of our deepest wounds, frustrations, and repressions. Words are thus, bound by actions that allows the split subject to produce truth. In this sense, words are much louder, powerful, and profound than actions!
Ultimately, the production of meanings to our unconscious thoughts gives the split subject the knowledge to potentially resolve their daily behaviors and symptoms. It is only by making them verbally recognize their repressions and the truth of their desires, where new actions can rupture from their unconscious mind that may come to change the course of their life.
“Words have a magical power. They can bring either the greatest happiness or deepest despair; they can transfer knowledge from teacher to student; words enable the orator to sway his audience and dictate its decisions. Words are capable of arousing the strongest emotions and prompting all men’s actions.”