sinthessaytica

What is a symptom?

The symptom guarantees a place in the universe. The universe is painful, but too big to know. A symptom is a pain that we know about very well – we know almost everything there is to know about it except why it is that it can’t be given up. Pain can provide a place for a creature that wants nothing more than to define its purpose once and for all. Like an answer to the question of desire (“I cannot bear it,”), pain is reliable, locatable.  As modern therapy models tend to say, it is “in the body”, though its source seems to always lie beyond it, beyond even the subject, touched in fragments, but best referred to as an incomparable and very privately known elusivity, one that concerns the question of being for a neurotic.

On fantasy, shame and a grand lack of irony

You can’t change your fantasy; but you can take responsibility for it by assigning a lack within the fantasy structure itself, that is to say a symbolized understanding (a deep knowing culled through difficult experiences and uncensored reflections) of its necessarily unfulfilled core, the cause of desire itself.

You can come to understand what you’ve been holding out for, its unreachable quality, and how you’ve been hurting from the belief in its reachable existence. There’s no reason to feel shame for fantasy except to find an excuse to preserve it ‘as is.’ “The Other does not respect my fantasy; does not understand me, therefore I will secretly fantasize as I have been and await my day of full reward.” Or: “Perhaps I will always simply enjoy my fantasy in private, shut far out from the world.” Whatever my strategy, my fantasy remains preserved without the inherent irony of its fantastic structure installed within it. And the Big Other thus cruelly remains in a correspondingly despotic position of lacklessness (“Someone’s got to be getting it if I’m not!”).

To understand lack in this way opens a space in which one must arduously wonder just what (or who) one would be without their fantasy as support, without the pain known so well, so personally, of its unbearable unfulfillment.

As is generally the case, a poet turns a prosaic monotony about existential grief into the new warmth of a well designed koan: “What would I lose if I didn’t have pain?” — snakeshuntsss, 2014

Maybe we have to use ‘literally’ as a qualifier so much because words (and trying to express oneself with them) have become so utterly ineffective, our sentiments profoundly unmemorable. And maybe that’s because in an Age of Face-value so much emphasis has been placed on communicating something ‘relatable’ rather than something irreducible.

On the power of hystericization

We Lacanians talk about hystericization in an ambiguous fashion, as we do with almost any provocative terminology. 

Sometimes we speak about it as an aim in the direction of the treatment for obsessional neurosis. To put it very simply, we want the obsessional to be impacted by the Other enough to develop a symptomatology more characteristic of alienation (Who am I? What does the Other want from me?) than separation (How can I avoid the Other? How can I neutralize the Other’s demand?). 

Of course, alienation is not an experience without suffering; there is perhaps here an even greater potential for unproductive or unwitting submersion in the symptom – at the very least, a more profoundly inconvenient jouissance. 

The hysteric is like the living moment before an artist relishes in their pain for the purpose of translating it into a work, or a working-through, if you wish. The anticipation of production (in this sense) can look and feel like power to both the hysteric and the onlooker. The very hysterical (or creative) relationship to the symptom is one of seduction or persuasion. It’s a relationship organized by faith or belief, and this is why the symptom threatens to overcome the hysteric who is eager to find in it the answer to the lack in his* being. The symptom as such can strengthen the neurotic structure, while the question of subversion is held in abeyance. As a result, any creative moment of desire can subdue itself by an unanalyzed demand for recognition (the demand for a definitive answer to ‘Who am I?’). This in itself would not be considered problematic until the hysteric deems it to be problematic.

To consider a clinical category of “power hysteric” (as I cryptically mentioned in an earlier post) would mean to consider how this state of the structure might impact the clinic. In other words, how do we approach the complaint of an hysteric who is satisfied with her complaint as an expression of, or an attestation to, her power? 

Today we see over and over again paradoxical self-affirmations making references to the failed Other (’Be with a man who constantly shows you that you matter to him’ or perhaps the more radical ‘A woman does not need a man’). These (usually) anonymously written platitudes essentially remind the hysteric to recall that he is in fact ‘strong’ (which would suggest that he is affirmed in believing that he is weak) or ‘unique’ and deserving as such (he must then be under the impression that he is not) or that his pain is not to be laughed off, or trivialized in some sense (though he should also remember to always be short on ‘fucks’ about it). 

In a way, these messages convey that one should develop a healthier relationship to the symptom (see Lacan’s ‘sinthome’), but they do so with an implicit reference to the symptom as the ratifiable sign of a lack, or a confirmation that something is actually missing for the hysteric – and when it’s not missing in her, it’s obviously missing in the Other (what’s missing is imaginary rather than symbolic – and without any reference whatsoever to the lack in the real).

Again, for psychoanalysis, a problem is not really a problem until the analysand says so. A critique of ideology cannot be mounted by the analyst alone, which presents for her another problem altogether.

*gender pronouns are used interchangeably and without specialized variances to show that the questions of clinical structure, sexuation, and their overlap must be considered on a case by case basis.

On keeping a secret from oneself

Psychanalysis is above all an analysis of secrets, the family’s or otherwise. Secret views. Secret opinions. Secret memories. Secret secrets. Secret rooms. Secret love. Secret hatred. Secret words. Secret breaths. Perhaps the most painful of all being the analysis of one’s most sacred secrets.

on the secrecy of jouissance and the enjoyment of pain in private

to admit to your own suffering, that is to admit to your enjoyment of that particular suffering, can be the most difficult but liberating pill to take. if one can reclaim the area of their suffering, one can imagine oneself as suffering in defiance against the Other, that is to say for a good purpose. if your time doesn’t feel like your own, if your work is always borrowed and your returns are low, if your life feels stolen, suffering will be an exquisite realm of experience which no one else can set foot upon, most especially not the Other. but one must fabricate a fantastical living space to enjoy here undisturbed. to enjoy undisturbed naturally also means to ignore the structure of fantasy — when this knowledge arrives from the subject herself, fantasy itself unravels revealing an uncomfortable void of purpose at the base of her reasoning. psychoanalysis is a fantasy which takes place in the Two Scene, one which explicitly includes a personal Other (though no less alienating), and one which is paradoxically structured to lift the veil of fantasy, as the unconscious unveils itself in the speech of the analysand.

on the traumatic dimension of beauty

“Unexpected intrusions of beauty. This is what life is.” Saul Bellow very exquisitely captures the principle that has kept me going forward in what I consider to be a lifelong study and commitment to psychoanalysis. I think that what is important here is the intrusive dimension of these unexpected encounters with beauty.

As I understand it, neurotics are at odds with what they want.  In so doing they’re known to keep objects of desire at bay, impose self-defeating obstacles where necessary, prefer to keep the status quo, and altogether avoid changes that cannot be anticipated — short-circuiting the very pursuit of possibilities. For Freud, the very question of possibility as such necessarily implies that the subject must pay with her time and effort to win and enjoy anything worthwhile to her, rather than vainly waiting for good fortune to simply arrive on her lap.

Lacan places this famous Freudian demand for work (and love) more explicitly into the realm of ethics. Which demand? The drives, silent as Freud intimated, which makes themselves heard without language, from the body and then pressed upon the psyche and its representational capacities. Che vuoi?, it asks. What do I really want here in the realm of beauty? In the realm of the question of the drive’s satisfaction as such? And am I prepared for the disappointments, the surprises? Because if I am not open to enjoying in this way, I must remove myself from exposure to the likelihood of any beautiful intrusions. So, che vuoi?

When I first pursued a path in psychology I was mainly interested in finding a reliable answer to this question. At this stage in my career I am however much more interested in why it was that I was so insistent on answering it once and for all. Could that insistence itself lead to undue suffering? Finally, can the psychoanalysis of one’s undue suffering potentially lead to reimagining what out there may actually be worth suffering for?

Today, this question imposes itself on us on a much larger scale. “Undue suffering”, as it were, has perhaps never been so rampant as it is today, appearing to us cloaked in seductive but reductive terminology, as part of the contemporary discourse on mental health. What’s talked about more and more today are highly specific diagnoses; diagnoses that also seem to help us find refuge from desire through new identifications. Nonetheless this push to label every psychopathology more specifically, more contemporarily (or more politically inclusive) also appears to corner the new subject in the seemingly safer space of identification — but safe from what? Safe from beautiful intrusions, it would seem.

Safe from parapraxes, slips of the tongue, bungled acts, and truth points; from the secrets of dreams, the iconoclasm of imagination, and from the potential for ingenuity when faced with frustrations. What could this mean for a world which must face the impending consequences of economic crises and the utter collapse of ethics in the name of narcissistic enjoyments? How can the community reformulate itself if its own constituents have already given up hope on any semblance of ethical purpose? In the place of the potentially liberating “What do you want,” instead we find the very confining “What do you want to be?”

it’s interesting to consider that when you’re rich it’s precisely greater and greater risks that you an afford to take. when poor, or anything less than rich, obviously it’s about taking the right risks at the right times. if you work hard, yes, but also if things work in your favor (anyone who has been successful knows about the breaks they don’t think they necessarily deserved, but nonetheless own as won from their own sweat), you can create the conditions for taking greater risks. but risks are risks. risks are also circumvented by the conglomeration of certain interest groups. Those of us without ethics, and those of us who assume that a mature ethic is a properly modulated ethic that better contends with the reality of economics (for Lacanians, the real of economics), will invent groups (like Lacanians) which exist solely in opposition to certain offensive cultural practices and ideas, from the extremely relevant of politics to the ultimately irrelevant of culture (style of clothing, type of cuisine). Difference will not be uncovered within the self, but always outside of the self. The wicked core of subjectivity, which forever lives in ressentiment to its material cause, is placed or projected outward, in everyday speech and seemingly meaningless gestures. The master is a slave to the philosophy of other masters. The slave is a master of dubious integrities (a human tendency towards the wish for an integrity of/to objects which can never be defeated). The former aims to consume, but the latter aims to consume itself. From wherever you stand, it’s alacrity for life. Enthusiasm for being, located in the body, but stayed by way of the precarious balance of the signifier. what do you want?

on being and wanting to be

when it comes to anglopho-sizing Lacan, jouissance is one of the more difficult – if not downright impossible – translations to denote with any palatable satisfaction.

but if we think about it while recalling Jacque-Alain Miller’s formulations on desire and identity, that is to say that desire is a desire for identity (which means that one calls for approval or even disapproval from the Other), we can better understand the strange conglomeration of pleasure and pain inherent to the embodiment of being with the precondition of approval.

we can be satisfied with recognition (i was voted most likely to succeed by graduating class), or even with miscrecognition (e.g. i finally passed for a boi among genderqueers when really i am cis-gendered girl), but this satisfaction is that of the signifier, a satisfaction which is always dependent on an imaginary reciprocity of signification (I am X and you concur that I am X), whereas another kind of satisfaction seems to altogether really on the disintegration of identity.

think about losing yourself. losing yourself in your work, in your art, in a book, in sex. think about the unclaimable aspect of experience, the part that you have difficulty conveying to others. this has nothing at all to do with identity. it is pure satisfaction and it is here and now and look at that it’s already gone. it’s not meant to be mentalized, or meaning’d. it’s found in another field altogether, one different from that of approval.

if we think of jouissance as the possibility for all kinds of enjoyment, we can also think about some of those enjoyments being more enjoyable than others. and why is that? why do we sometimes refer to “cheap thrills?” why do we rate, order, and categorize what gives us pleasure and pain? and have you noticed how good people are at critiquing their enjoyment, noting the peaks and the valleys, the costs and the benefits, so to say? 

what are we doing in this life if not organizing for ourselves the most meaningful of moments, and how many of us suffer the unbearableness of satisfaction when it remains in the sphere of identification? as subjects, we may know nothing better than this area of separation between the experiences which satisfied/sustained our desire and those which seemed to temporarily render irrelevant desire as such. it is in this unclaimable realm of being that one can discover their relationship to the elusiveness, to the impermanence, and to the ecstasy of jouissance.

Psychoanalysis can make you wonder whether or not there’s something else more dear to you than your attachment to a particularized pain, one which functions as both the cause and the self-cure for an intolerable lack in the Other.

On it being not what it ought to be being

There’s a slightly irritating expression: “It is what it is.” Usually it’s uttered with some resignation. Perhaps it is best suited to situations of symbolic value, i.e. situations in which it becomes clear that something important is either very present or very absent.

But this is maybe a more dangerous expression to apply than any other on the subject, for such observations about “reality” tend to be registered mostly within the imaginary rather than the symbolic. The imaginary provides access to knowledge, but imaginary knowledge is always about dreadful certainties, proud unities, unsightly disparities, and ontologic insurance. You can usually tell because imaginary claims are paired with profound ignorances and disavowals of other forms of knowledge. To be sure, this is why we ought to watch out for “It is what it is.” As Althusser understood the appearances of ideology — namely that ideology doesn’t have to appear or disappear, that it is obvious, that it is what it is — we can also understand the existential heaviness of these claims which are otherwise mere glimpses into the present state of things; we can understand why they both threaten our existence as malleable subjects while they nonetheless secure our identities (as egos or agents of certainty). 

“It is what it is,” provides confirmation from the Big Other about truth. Subjectivity on the other hand thrives on questions, uncertainties, possibilities, and unravelings. To be certain, in this imaginary sense, is to suffocate the event of the subject under the good life of the ego.

You can think of the Lacanian real as that which is unnameable, that which eludes your grasp as such. You can also think of the real as that which nonetheless makes the sharpest, most penetrating demands upon the psyche, or as that which swells and breathes with meaning-to-be-made but never to be completed as such.

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 opposed 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.

psychoanalysis is a process in which someone takes what you say very seriously. not “seriously” in the sense of there being no room for humor, quite the contrary. a serious listening takes all expressions and constructions to the letter, understanding full well that understanding is never actually full. in psychoanalysis it is “understanding” which sets forth a depth that will be continually broken through. psychoanalysis at its best will show that it is not merely the depths of understanding which can be broken through, but also the untested limits of what one understands to be the most personal, the most intimate, of pleasures and pains.

It might be appropriate to say – in the way we talk about someone suffering from an illness – that at times we suffer from fantasy; we suffer from within a fantasy about suffering. And everyone, regardless of the type, wants recognition for their suffering. It is this plea for recognition which tethers a subject to fantasy.

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.

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.

i think that we should read Freud as description rather than pro or prescription. when we read “normal” or “perversion” in Freud, we should read it as “this is what we as a culture seem to think is normal (but we don’t really know)“ and ”this is what we as a culture seem to think is perversion (but we don’t really know)”.