project for a new positive psychoanalysis

psychoanalysis and positive psychology were contradistinctive from the inception of positive psychology. it was the claim of Seligman and his eventual followers that psychoanalysis spent far too much time in the past, rehashing tired stories of yesteryear — ones which only served to hinder the psychoanalytic subject under the weight of arguably iatrogenic pressures to rectify his newly illuminated past; analytic injunctions to steer clear of flagrant repetitions in his present (a revelatory process which often induces shame); the most obscene of which naturally leading to the fear of what neurotic episodes there are yet to come!

It would be paradoxical but appropriate here to make the claim that Seligman et. al. sought to redeem psychoanalysis — at the very least its initial curative efforts — by focussing on what can almost literally be referred to as ‘the good stuff’, namely implications subsumed under the idea that through talk therapy one could live a better life, a fuller life with less inhibition and more easily assimilable experiences. And they did just that. They developed a theoretical approach based on legitimate clinical praxes and found that people felt better when their strengths were highlighted, co-occurring with the clinical intervention of leaving the past in the past and certainly not “worked through” ad nauseam.

This seductive clinical outcome is however ironically consonant with one the major findings of Freud — one which could be said to have served as perhaps the impetus for 19th century psychoanalytic research, at least from a point of concern for medicine. Namely the discovery of the suggestive power of the clinician and its counterpart in the suggestibility of the patient. The clinician will always be in a privileged position of influence toward the psychoanalytic subject, if not by the pedigree of her training and credentials alone. Practically anything the clinician puts forth with a calm, intentional demeanor is going to be swallowed up whole by the more suggestible of patients, a condition which is not however uncommon in anyone who contacts a physician in the exasperation of an incurable illness. It can also be said with confidence that when the medical interpretation is not swallowed it will be utterly rejected, spit out, as it were, in a single dissociative burst. The fact remains, however, that the interpretation will be invested with meaning: “This is quackery,” or “My god, I have a chronic condition…” with what can be understood as a basic investment in the esteemed opinion of a medical doctor. 

But this critique of the genesis of positive psychology is not at all meant to topple its foundations. It would be too easy to conclude that positive psychologists have committed great folly and oversight: Oh, to ignore the discoveries of Freud! For shame! But no, there’s no sense in abolishing a perfectly reasonable area of research, one which concerns itself with the questions concerning how is it that we might stay mostly happy? And what is it about psychotherapeutic treatments that may inadvertently obstruct that very process? Such an inquiry however always necessarily requires a revisitation to what it means to be happy for all of us still living in the here and now. To be sure, positive psychology has lots of researched results in this regard. From a psychoanalytic perspective however, the results are much more revelatory (or at the very least more interesting) if we wonder for a moment about whether or not people can really want to be happy — might this mean simply being seen or heard as evidence to others of being happy? And what about there being so many who now seem to desire to be seen as unhappy as is evidenced by a growing affection among youngsters for idealized images of melancholy?What can we say about the very demand for happiness?

In Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle, we are introduced to a reality of practically unacceptable paradoxes. What we are concerned with here is most certainly beyond that of the drive conflicts with the ego — it’s not simply about a utilitarian maximizing of pleasure and minimizing of pain. Freud has here ceased to be even moderately understandable. He offers to us a theory of how on earth it could be that people will do the most horrible, atrocious things to themselves, knowing full well the consequences of their actions; about a greater, intractable desire to destroy one’s current conditions in favor of the ever-changing dictates of one’s conflicting desires. As I like to refer to it, the controversial death drive refers to one’s peculiar relationship to living according to the ideal of a good death.

Freud was flummoxed with this business of helping people through the development of insight. He consistently found himself at odds with the patient’s outright refusal to be helped by the therapist, and beyond any expected resistances. Lacan, Freud’s as yet most radical interpreter, developed from this deadlock a theory of the very ethics of psychoanalysis. It was Lacan who successfully reintroduced the possibility of happiness into psychoanalysis — a happiness procured from living a true life in which meaning is sought from beyond the analyst, from beyond the professional, indeed beyond the pleasure principle as the latter first achieves satisfaction through a good interpretation coming from without as apposed to from within.

Lacan’s argument was convincing for the psychoanalytic community: a human being suffers most when living beneath the dictates of its own original system of ethics. It is my claim that positive psychology is also a psychology which concerns itself with ethics (as all psychologies are ultimately psychologies of ethics). When we start to talk about happiness, we are going to have to also talk about what happiness really means to each person — and whether or not that has more to do with keeping one’s sense of desire grounded and safe versus the upholding of a desire which is subject to changes and enervated as such. That if we are going to talk about happiness in this way we must also therefore talk about the happinesses that we can’t yet imagine; the ones which exist at the interstices between fantasied expectation and real outcome. Finally, that perhaps even psychoanalysis can be positivized or that positive psychology can reclaim its analytic foundations. Regardless of theoretical points of departure, the concern for happiness remains here to be paramount and indispensable to the chosen mode of praxis.

on the ideological function of cynicism

cynicism is the contagion which latches itself onto the modern melancholic subject, one which has all but given up on the possibility of change except for that kind which necessarily potentiates itself within the confines of what the subject ironically deems to be realistic, i.e. the remainder of possibility after the defeat of imagination. cynicism serves as the logical support of the fundamental [narcissistic] fantasy, or the generally unchecked, narratively informed system of ethics which the melancholic subject refers itself to in order to make just choices. ethics are here the right way to understand the wrongness of the world, but always with the implication of an incentive for one who reckons with the world efficiently. how sensible are you? how naive? how left? how right?

in any case, the efficiency of such a system of ethics is evidenced by one’s relative monetary success and accumulation of property, or by one’s overall look of accomplishment and good health (health even today still suggests one’s relationship to morality). to dream or to imagine a reinvention of culture that has little to do with progress (which is always for the few) and much more to do with maintenance (which naturally concerns the many) is considered to be fruitlessly and even dangerously idealistic — pontifications of an uninvestible future, unforeseeable as such.

so it is easy to see why, in this Age of Progress, adopting a philosophy of cynicism is arguably wise, as it leads to the flourishing of individualized progresses proven by way of visible capital gains.

it is also easy to remember here Benjamin’s analysis of the fascist that i will crudely paraphrase in the context of my argument. one only needs their heart broken once — fully and morally lost in a dismal world without a big Other — to create the space for a functional ideology of prosperity. that is to say: it is human to dream, but it is equally human to completely give up.

just as a quick side note — don’t let anyone, anyone, especially anyone who says they are a fucking therapist of any sort, ever ever convince you that there is a whole life, a full life, the engaged life, the authentic life somewhere waiting to be lived (as opposed to this one).

if we know fullness, it’s in a lack of fullness, or in the fullness of emptiness. if we know engagement, it’s through disengagement and through the losses we risk in engagement. if we know authenticity, it’s always in retrospect, and its subject to change anyhow. fullness for us is dialectically composed in time, thereby subject to the vicissitudes of any theoretical analysis. that is to say that some aspects of a fuller life will be exposed while their antinomic (and dialectically dependent) components will dissociatively be obscured.

the best life fights chance (not change) “one word at a time”. it does not anticipate the ecstasy in a triumph of lifestyle comparisons. it finds happiness precisely where the expectation for happiness is not met. and here what is purported to be best for one is most definitely never what is, or what has ever been, best for another.

Given that the choice of life partner is by far the most important thing in life to get right, how is it possible that so many good, smart, otherwise-logical people end up getting it so wrong?

please all of you, be mindful of pop psychology links. they share great ideas that bear credence to real life phenomena, but as soon as you see some kind of hierarchical theory of mind, you can basically throw that part away (and sometimes the whole article, too).

no one has it existentially better than anyone else. no one has it more “figured it” out than anyone else, though it’s funny (and tempting) to think so.

there are only people who are both killing themselves to realize unrealities and rebirthing themselves to invent new realities. there is no other dialectic which concerns psychology other than that between the primary and parallel processes. their sum creates what appears to be a predetermined sociological condition, but it will always be the subject who authoritatively rewrites her surroundings against all otherwise phallicized meanings, or more colloquially, against all odds.

On drugs

Psychotropic drugs are effective to the extent that they can create very temporary but very acute shifts in libidinal activity, registered by the subject within the chemically enervated nervous system. Though it naturally depends on the relative strength of the drug, the subject will nonetheless experience an inhuman shift in libidinal organization. Dependencies develop due to the subject’s displacement of faith in a big Other who can restore order or provide some kind of guarantee (about being). The subject invests the drug with the power to redistribute libidinal interests, unwittingly enslaving itself to what it believes to be a more expedient but impersonal process of becoming. Even if that becoming is arguably somnambulant, the subject is still investing into its future and prolonging life against death with lethargic activity (as opposed to facing a reality of profound libidinal constipation).

The irony here is obvious (I just said that to make you feel dumb for not seeing it before I’ve done my job of explaining it). Libidinal activity is taking place but it is redirected at the ego rather than out into the world. In the jettisoning of the ego in favor of an altered state there is a paradoxical over-investment in the ego which, in the interest of preservation, has been mummified and therefore disinvested of its agency in fantasy.

We must remember here that all this ‘activity’ is psychic which means that it’s about how we understand ourselves in relationship to our dreams, our ideals, and the ideals of others (it covers much more area than that of conscious intellectual understandings). In this way the psyche creates reality through fantasy and in this psychic reality the ego can appear to be deprived of a function which is otherwise constitutional to it. The truth is that the ego is behind it all to the extent that decisions with consequences are being made (again in the interest of prolonging life and postponing death).

So the tragedy in drug dependence is that the big Other is displaced, not unlike it is elsewhere in defensive neurotic phenomena, but today this defensive process is complicated by hedonistic societal aims and an overall impatience with the patience required to undergo and engage with worthwhile or exigent changes. The drug becomes a love affair that everyone can get lost within, avoiding the nameless Other and retreating into an Other which enervates the ego with purpose, however temporary and avoidant it may be. It’s not so much that we have new psychopathology here, but that we have new ways of collectively covering it over.

it really doesn’t matter what happened. or what didn’t happen. or what might’ve happened. or what probably happened.

what matters is that people are upset enough to collectivize themselves and uprise. no one is gonna “come to their senses” from a good talking to…no one will be convinced of “the facts”.

the only fact we can rely on is that distressed people need to be heard. or there will be violences. nothing else will do.

on the concept of understanding versus knowledge

You can’t have the right reaction until you’ve understood your way through the wrong one, again and again. Until you observe for yourself the losses in always being at a loss. The right thing or the sensible thing is unavailable as such. One’s senses are attuned through successions of empirical disharmony, not unity. We come to know the edges of ourselves as they scrape across the limits of our lives. This is unconscious knowledge. This is savoir.

Though the daily show and it’s spinoffs have had an undeniably astounding impact on what we think of today as journalism (an arguably antiquated term which is used almost exclusively to describe its own lacking), I sometimes wonder if such a feat is as impressive as the crime through which it betrays its (hopefully) illuminative aims: the crime of turning dumbfounding tragedies into the shruggable truth of an otherwise satisfying punchline.

On money and the limits of psychoanalysis

Sometimes I wonder — even for psychoanalysis — if it could be said that we all care very much to justify our principles about living — why it is we do what we do, for what purpose — but to that effect do we also, unconsciously, aim to justify to ourselves the money that we make and the property that we own? Our lot so to speak. Are we worth our lot — what the big Other doth bequeath upon our little Kingdom?

Is it only the Right which judges the poor, the morally lost, as undeserving of a better life — deserving of, to them, an arguably earned suffering? Can any of us live with the guilt of our undistributed wealth and is this how we find a way? With our little theories about how things work. With our little theories about what’s not comprehensible, that which lies outside of them: namely, other ideas.

What occurs in the economic unconscious? In a population of unanalyzed subjects? How can such an economy of the real be analyzed?

On the value of money

It could be [usefully] argued that the modern value of money is a compromise formation designed to provide a guarantee of compensation for the psychic work demanded by the drives — the drives whose interests are always toward the realization of the Will to Power. That is to say that money — again as it functions today — can provide a fantastic security against the vicissitudes of the drives and their tendency towards death, loss, rejuvenation, and with that the necessary reimagining of their objectives. This last task especially being circumvented through the amassing of wealth and the hoarding of commodified properties.

on drama, on no drama

Wherever you see the term “drama,” as in “no drama”, it is safe to translate it here to derivatives of the unconscious. Fear. Jealousy. Rage. The worst of you. The parts from which you turn away, the ongoing truth that you pervert. In the very areas of yourself in which you paradoxically find yourself most excusable — for when you sin, it was because you were drunk, because you were fed up with someone, or because they deserved it, or because you have some kind of pathology of the mind. In any case, some very important truth about who you are (including who you are not, but thought you were) is obscured, disavowed, beaten to death, but nonetheless heavy on the heart.

"No drama" is your drama. You are an actor in a play from which you attempt to forget the drama, but nonetheless demand to fully enjoy its spectatorship.

You are the drama. The drama is you.

anonymous said:

where's a good place to start w/ Lacan?

My advice to newcomers to Lacan is first and foremost to let the natural fluctuations of your fascination be your guide. I think that’s necessary to find it worthwhile to dedicate oneself to the years of study necessary to properly grasp and apply the ideas, otherwise you’ll get easily warded off by gobbldegookish, culty, hyper-alienating language and run-on sentences.

I have read lots of Lacanian writing of one kind or another, and I’ve found that they all have their own unique confounding element regardless of how introductory the text may claim to be. It was always what I couldn’t put down that gripped my attention. The more stratospherically abstruse papers were the ones which I endured, but did not enjoy (but still expect to return to some day).

With that said, the most lucid writers I’ve come across on the subject are: 

Technical, explanatory

Bruce Fink

Slavoj Zizek

Paul Verhaeghe

Ellie Ragland-Sullivan

Jeanne Lorraine Schroeder  

Raul Moncayo

Heartfelt, sensitive

Darian Leader

Adam Phillips

Jeanne Wolf Bernstein

Renata Salecl

I can especially recommend Raul Moncayo (he could fit under both categories due to his frequent use of grounding clinical examples) as I’ve only recently begun reading his texts On The Emptiness of Oedipus as well as Evolving Lacanian Perspectives for Clinical Psychoanalysis and I kinda wish I had begun with these! They are written for a beginning, curious mind with lots of grounding in Freud as well as some very nice allusions to Zen buddhism and other uncommonly analogized elements of eastern perennial philosophies.

I can also recommend those comic book style intro works. I think there are two that are still available by Philip Hall and Darian Leader, both useful to re-refer to. The Lacanian Dictionary by Dylan Evans is essential to own — but it’s also available in Wiki form at

Oh — and last but crucially not least is to read as much Freud as you can. I worked my way backwards which has retroactively worked well for me, but I probably shot myself in the foot a little there as Lacan is a radical Freudian through and through.

Ideology and repression go hand in hand. When we encounter the limits of ourselves, we install a metaphor which prohibits any further venturings out into the beyond of possibility, the true precipice of our anxiety. We must be vigilant but flexible, dissecting but forgiving, critical but appreciative. Above all we must be phenomenologically open to what we don’t yet know in the socio-political sphere, at the same time being benevolently suspicious of our obstructive historicities and our tendencies toward dissociation, when confronted with complexity.

what is startling, or perhaps more often repulsive, is Freud’s capacity to remind us of how traumatic it is for anyone to encounter sex, difference, gender, and all other such sexual concerns, always existing but without a truly satisfying explanation (male and female are obvious failures), and yet an undeniable presentation, and one which must be reckoned with by the nascent psyche of a child.

i miss when phones were stupid. when TVs were stupid. when cars were stupid. when computers were stupid. when screens were for lookin’ at and not for touchin’. when tech was simply “there” and not in any sense everywhere. when nothing needed to be updated or upgraded, ever. you had the thing and that was what you had for a long time.

On the hallucination of meaning

Hallucinating something into existence means that you’ll have a thought and then you’ll see what you’re thinking.

But thought implies desire and a push-to-know. Knowing here means the consumption and alteration inherent to any encounter with an idea. It’s the means of building a world one can walk through.

You will masticate the meaning out of an incorporated word-moment. This is simply how we make sense of things. But why must we make sense of things? Because an absence of sense creates anxiety. To be sure it merely uncovers anxiety. Anxiety is ever-present and generative in its relationship to time.

But a hallucination will fill the time of waiting with the object of expectation, even if it is merely a voice. Whatever it is, it is Other, and one can utilize it for almost any purpose they wish.

Purpose here concerns the over-evaluation of three conflicting faculties in the psychic apparatus — “over-evaluation” as they all function excessively with relationship to the subject.

How will I use the Other to get what I want? How will I keep the Other away from my soul? The final question is unenunciated. It is a silent question of the Drive. It wordlessly yet unmistakably rumbles “what will be done here?”

some people think that self-deprecation is a plea for help, or fishing for complements, or just general attention-getting.

but oh no no no no what they don’t understand is that we self-deprecators get off on its very enunciation — we in fact care very little for the response.

if anything a response is a turn-off, an inconvenience on the way to orgasm. you are not the one we are addressing. this letter is written to the Other.

On the loving destructions inherent to thinking

When something is missing, i.e. when something desired is not there at the time one wishes it to be, one’s only consolation is the thought of the missing thing.

The thought is a melancholic hallucination. The things is still missing while the thought does its work of filling in the mournful space of absence, of disappointment. But we can enjoy that. It can feel gratifying, in a sense, to have a thought.

The sense one can have of a thing which is lost is the sense tied to the thought itself. As sense produces thought, as body produces sense image, a subject-object love relation is established. Love here means knowing. I know this object and I love it as such.

Winnicott described love as a kind of necessary destruction of the object by the subject. It is a narcissistic investment of one’s thinking time. To love a thing is to think about it. Where there is no love there is not instead hate as is naturally expected. What we find there is an unfindable indifference.