The Lacanian Movement in France by David James Fisher with Introduction by Nathan Szajnberg

Lacan in Context: Fashioning Psychoanalysis in France
 N. Szajnberg, MD: Introduction to D. J. Fisher’s overview of Lacan

Bobby Paul s article in IP.net (Click Here to Read Paul) framed how cultures color psychoanalysis. He writes as a psychoanalyst and cultural anthropologist..

This week, David James Fisher, a cultural historian and psychoanalyst, reviews Lacan’s influence on French psychoanalysis.

  This week, David James Fisher, a cultural historian and psychoanalyst, reviews a Lacanian s account of Lacan s influence on French psychoanalysis. My introduction is too brief, so you can hear Fisher s voice. In sum, Lacan was a character: a maker and breaker of Parisian institutes; a display at his annual ôselfanalysesö before packed crowds at the Ecole Normale Superieur and other settings; ejected from the IPA because of his idiosyncratic brief sessions with candidates, he thrived further. To understand Lacan — to the extent that he permits this — is to begin to grasp French psychoanalysis, which Fisher calls vibrant, passionate, politicized and schismatic. And, as Andre Green emphasizes, ejecting Jewish analysts from Nazioccupied Paris resulted in a turn to texts (rather than the clinical setting) by French analysis, although Fisher adds that Lacan approached Freud s texts with ôstructural linguistics, and a dash of surrealism, Hegelianism, and other forms of modernist libertarian thinking,ö and what Lacan considered psychoanalytic.

Fisher is a fine guide to this era. First trained as a cultural historian, he studied at L Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes. As an American psychoanalyst, he knows this culture well and can transport French thinking to our turf. He has written four books: Romain Rolland and the Politics of Intellectual Engagement; Cultural Theory and Psychoanalytic Tradition; Psychoanalytische Kulturkritik und die Seele des Menschen; and Bettelheim: Living and Dying.

We are fortunate to have him contribute. His piece is abbreviated for IP.net, but those interested further, see ôPsychoanalytic Books,ö Vol. 5, 1994, 365-374.

Before you begin, a personal brush with Paris. Near the end of my weekend with Andre Green, in which he was generous with his time, he remarked, ôYou don t seem very American.ö I asked what he meant. He responded, ôWell, you re not very shallow.ö Let s turn to Lacan.

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THE LACANIAN MOVEMENT IN FRANCE

David James Fisher, Ph.D. *

In July of 1975, I was completing my second year of post-doctoral studies at the Sixieme Section of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris. Summertime in Paris is late sunsets and a blue-black evening sky, well-rendered in Van Gogh s late paintings. Gorgeous light and mild weather transform an enchanting city into one of romance and adventure. I had become a Parisian flaneur: strolling leisurely along the boulevards of the Left Bank, landing in a lovely outdoor cafÈ on the rue Jacob with a spectacular view of the Saint-Germain Cathedral. I did not know it then, but this cafÈ was adjacent to a bookstore specializing in psychoanalytic literature. A couple arrived at the next table. They were quintessentially Parisian: young, hip, voluble, and attractive. Their conversation was animated, and they soon included me. They carried with them two paperbacks with elusively simple titles, Ecrits I and Ecrits II. (Lacan, 1966). These former leftists of the late 1960 s claimed, hyperbolically, that the insurrectionary mood of the sixties had been replaced by the new revolutionary outlook condensed here. The author of the Writings was Jacques Lacan. His texts, they asserted vehemently, merited the rigorous study and exegesis of social and political philosophers and critical theorists. Lacan was a brilliant genius, at the intersection of the linguistic and the subjective. They waved the volumes like Chinese students gesticulated before Mao s Little Red Book. I was amused and slightly irritated; they seemed histrionic and rhetorically excessive in a recognizably French manner. But something about the episode remained with me. The anecdote takes on meaning if placed in the context of the history of French psychoanalysis; this trendy and appealing Parisian couple represented the victory of Lacanian psychoanalysis in France, an implantation (some say glorious, others horrid) that had reached its zenith in the middle 1970 s.

I have been teaching Lacan s writings for over three decades, both in American universities and psychoanalytic institutes. In the world of psychoanalytic thinkers, he file:///C|/Internationalblog/Szajnberglacan-fisher.doc.html (2 of 15) [9/15/2011 4:36:54 PM] lacan-fisher.doc

ranks just beneath Freud. He was original, innovative in technique, charismatic, profoundly and wrenchingly modern in his approach to the mind. He re-imagined psychoanalytic discourse, making it relevant to contemporary audiences. Reading him is never easy, always stimulating, at times maddening. Whether one thinks of him as a genius or a master thinker, Lacan reinvented psychoanalysis; along the way, he offered a new language, created a major new school of analytic thinking, and significant departures in analytic theory and practice. His presence in Paris was an extraordinary spectacle with powerful reverberations throughout France and the world. Elizabeth Roudinesco is the historian of this somewhat bizarre and somewhat baroque history. She and her family lived some of its history; she chronicles it with verve, intelligence, wit, passion, and a global if polemical view. She has written an intellectual biography of Lacan (Roudinesco, 1997) and important essays in psychoanalytic cultural criticism (Roudinesco, 2001). She is an accomplished and versatile writer with a trenchant point of view.

The century-long story of French psychoanalysis from 1885 to 1985 the ô100 year battleö as Roudinesco subtitles her study in the original French emerged from and was enmeshed in the cultural and political history of France during this age. In effect, it is a story of how French psychoanalysis found its authentically French, that is, Lacanian identity. French psychoanalysis was influenced by the ejection of Jewish psychoanalysts in the 1940 s because of the racial policies connected to the Nazi occupation of France; this profound loss meant that French psychoanalysis moved more towards theory and textual analysis rather than in a more practical, clinical direction. Roudinesco argues that only a truly French thinker, rooted in the language, mores, and Catholic culture of France, but atheist and modernist in sensibility, could have been the agent of such an implantation. Freudian psychoanalysis penetrated into France slowly, tortuously, and after encountering powerful, entrenched forces of opposition. By the 1890 s, the French already had established a tradition of psychology, well articulated by its writers and moralists. The French possessed their own competing discipline and profession of psychiatry, imagining that they had no need for other perspectives. French xenophobia file:///C|/Internationalblog/Szajnberglacan-fisher.doc.html (3 of 15) [9/15/2011 4:36:54 PM] lacan-fisher.doc

and cultural nationalism made the French suspicious of, if not hostile to, a ôGerman scienceö like psychoanalysis. Finally, French ethnocentrism merged with a conservative variety of anti-Semitism, particularly strident after the Dreyfus Affair, to obstruct the rapid diffusion of psychoanalytic methods and insights. It was easy to dismiss Freud s ideas as ôJewishö; to isolate his disciples as another disreputable clan of ôJewishö subversives.

Roudinesco s book is part novel, part intellectual history, part journalism, part gossip, part cultural commentary, part polemic, part biography, part autobiography, and part institutional history. It reads well and accessibly, though it deals with difficult ideas. It is fluently translated by Jeffrey Mehlman, who himself helped to disseminate Lacan s thought in America by translating the latter s ôSeminar on The Purloined Letterö in 1972. (Lacan, 1972).

Roudinesco belongs to the fourth generation of French psychoanalysis. Her mother, Jenny Aubry, nee Weiss, was a physician who worked to introduce psychoanalysis into the French hospital world. Described by Roudinesco as rebellious, activist, and feminist, Aubry practiced what she preached; she joined a Communist branch of the Resistance in the struggle against the Nazis. In the early 1950 s she became affiliated with Lacan. This half-Jewish, half-Protestant woman maintained a life-long passion against authoritarianism. Roudinesco tellingly writes, ôIn the Weiss family, women did not conceal their frequently extreme opinions.ö (p. 240). Nor does Roudinesco. She is an erudite and incisive intellectual with a facile command of the French structuralist and poststructuralist arsenal. She is an authoritarian antiauthoritarian. She writes as a partisan insider with distinct ideological allegiances; her biases are transparent and she makes no attempt to be balanced or fair. Discussing intellectual encounters over the sixty years, Roudinesco decides who wins debates, whose mind is most subtle, who wields the nastier and more corrosive pen. Her criteria are not always self-evident. She refers to Lacan as ôhis majestyö and ôour hero.ö She can become omnipotent, telling us without evidence precisely what was on Lacan s mind. As part of the generation that came into consciousness in the 1960 s, Roudinesco, file:///C|/Internationalblog/Szajnberglacan-fisher.doc.html (4 of 15) [9/15/2011 4:36:54 PM] lacan-fisher.doc

born in 1944, carries with her a 60 s sensibility; her volume is loaded ideologically, and her ideology is Lacanian. Like many of her generation in France, some of her extreme left Marxist militancy appears to have been displaced onto a Lacanian intellectual and clinical framework. This is a subtext of Lacanian discourse: self-assured, self-righteous rhetoric about saving the world that masquerades under different labels. She engages in intellectual duels with an aggressivity and phallic narcissism of the pen. Because she is a practicing analyst, I was troubled by her judgments of people, finding them to be summary, lacking empathy or compassion, sometimes lacking soundness or plausibility. She is consistently cruel and dismissive, for example, in her remarks about Rudolph Loewenstein, Lacan s analyst, and Marie Bonaparte, his rival and an analysand of Freud. In Lacanian fashion, she privileges theory and metaphor, especially favoring those gifted in flamboyant and self-reflexive commentary, over rigorous scholarship, clear prose style, and comprehensive documentation.

The book s documentation is flagrantly uneven. She cites French sources primarily and parochially, a representative practice of thinkers such as Foucault, Lacan, Althusser and those immersed in the Parisian cultural context. She rarely cites non-French contributors to her narrative or analytic sections, even when these writers have been translated into French and deal directly with her themes. Emulating Lacan, she is dogmatically anti-American and postures against the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA) the way Leninists once railed against international imperialism. The first is a glaring, sectarian feature of the entire Lacanian enterprise, though reminiscent of de Gaulle s attitudes toward America; and the second, an illustration of the pitfalls of thinking monolithically. When she turns to events and factual details about the personalities within the Lacanian movement, however, Roudinesco is exceptionally well informed; many of her sources for the period from 1969 to 1980 derive from her own personal archives. She knows and has interviewed most of the leading figures around Lacan.

As an intellectual historian of the non-Lacanian sector of French psychoanalysis, Roudinesco is dazzling, putatively encyclopedic, but superficial. Her treatment of file:///C|/Internationalblog/Szajnberglacan-fisher.doc.html (5 of 15) [9/15/2011 4:36:54 PM] lacan-fisher.doc

thinkers and cultural movements is almost always inadequate, decontextualized, and without mastery of the existing scholarly literature. She is misleading and erroneous about Andre Breton and the history of Surrealism, of Romain Rolland and his idealism and debates with Freud, of Andre Gide and the cultural politics of La Nouvelle Revue Francaise, of the importance of Pierre-Jean Jouve and his use of analytic themes in his poetry and writings. Yet her knowledge of the cross-currents of 20th century French psychiatry and of the convergence of Marxism and Hegelianism with psychoanalytic thinkers is pertinent and excellently rendered. Her insights into the personalities in the Lacanian movement and in the Parisian university system, many of whom were fellow travelers of Lacan, are also superb, if marred by caustic irony and excessive familiarity.

Roudinesco captures the history of French psychoanalysis its passionate, politicized, schismatic events, and above all its intellectual vibrancy. In detail, scope, and breadth, her book far exceeds the previous scholarship in the field (Barande & Barande, 1975; Mijolla, 1982). Some recent scholarship is excellent and historically sophisticated, especially about the French non-Lacanians. (Gibeault, 2010; Mijolla, 2010). She describes the major splits in the French analytic movement in 1953, 1963, 1969, and the final dissolution of Lacan s Freudian School of Paris in 1980. This last event constituted a rupture of the Lacanian Empire by Lacan himself and his designated heir apparent, his son-in-law Jacques-Alain Miller. She astutely demonstrates the ruthlessness and maniacal spirit of French psychoanalysis, including that exhibited by partisans for and against Lacan. This sectarian spirit became exacerbated and intensified after the death of Lacan in l981, when his movement fragmented into a number of competing groups and associations, all claiming his name, language, and legitimacy (Turkle, 1992). The destruction and self-destruction of the Lacanian movement in the 1980 s may indicate the French followers inability to grieve the death of a founding father; it surely underscores how sharp the contradictions were while Lacan was alive. French psychoanalysis thrived with the promotion of competing chapels, groups, journals, and gurus. The subculture generated a great deal of camaraderie and self-importance, as file:///C|/Internationalblog/Szajnberglacan-fisher.doc.html (6 of 15) [9/15/2011 4:36:54 PM] lacan-fisher.doc

well as a heightened sense of dissension, including a paranoid flavor of suspicion and persecution. Bridge builders were suspect and few if any peace makers were tolerated. Psychoanalytic education and practice seemed closer to the reflective disciplines of philosophy and hermeneutics, particularly those thinkers who valued introspection and who were indebted to psychological forms of investigation. In Paris during the last 30 years theory building became linked to empire building, which in turn unleashed massive rhetorical warfare and great institutional strife. The Lacan of Jacques Lacan & Co. is a fabulous mix of the mythical and the problematic. From his youth to his maturity, he adopted a nonconformist, grandiose, regal posture. As a member of the Parisian Catholic bourgeoisie, he grew up despising the middle classes and was enamored of 20th century modernism, including Dadaism, Surrealism, Freudianism, and experimental literature and painting. Depicted by Roudinesco as ôprincely,ö the young Lacan sought out celebrity and was eager to acquire wealth and social status. He collected rare books and art objects. He enjoyed driving expensive cars fast. Charismatic, good looking, and capable of being charming and seductive when he chose to be, this ôRegency aristocratö developed into a dandified ladies man with a succession of mistresses. He could be difficult, angry, inaccessible, arrogant, and unpredictably rebellious.

Though he had a relatively ordinary medical career and received neuropsychiatric training in Paris from 1926 to 1930, he took the extraordinary step of immersing himself in philosophical studies and the writings of Spinoza. Moving easily in the world of the Parisian Surrealists, he became knowledgeable about the psychodynamics of crime, including the various psychotic features of criminals, while refusing to dehumanize the criminal. His brother, Marc-Francois, became a Benedictine priest. Lacan abandoned all belief in a Christian God and Christian practice. One wonders if they shared many personality qualities? The young Lacan attended meetings of the royalist, chauvinist, and proto-fascist Action Francaise, where he admired the reactionary Charles Maurras, while rejecting the principles of anti-Semitism which this organization of the extreme Right espoused.

file:///C|/Internationalblog/Szajnberglacan-fisher.doc.html (7 of 15) [9/15/2011 4:36:54 PM] lacan-fisher.doc

Lacan s 1932 medical thesis, a lengthy case study of a paranoid personality, synthesized his training in French psychiatry under Gaetan de Clerambault (the theorist of erotomania), the insights of the Surrealists on automatic writing and ômad love,ö and his earliest comprehension of Freud s writings on the psychodynamics of paranoia and homosexuality. Roudinesco regards the 1932 thesis, the case history of ôAimee,ö as a seminal text in the French psychoanalytic movement. Lacan demonstrates that paranoia was a coherent method of knowledge, arguing for the primacy of the unconscious in clinical understanding. His thesis exemplified his genius in synthesizing apparently disparate forms of knowledge. The young Lacan wrote beautifully. The mature Lacan s writings (particularly from the 1950 s through 1964) created intentional difficulties for his readers; here he wrote obscurely, as if he were inventing a new language, re-imagining the entire psychoanalytic enterprise. Roudinesco compares his early prose to Flaubert s Madame Bovary.

Lacan attended Alexander Kojeve s classes at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in the 1930 s. Kojeve pitted Hegel against the prevailing idealism in French philosophy and against Cartesian logic and rationality. His version of Hegel stemmed from a precise and elaborate reading of The Phenomenology of the Spirit. Here Lacan encountered the master-slave dialectic, a view of history as one of the triumph of tyranny, and first learned of the Hegelian concepts of desire, alienation, and recognition. Desire, Kojeve taught, is the desire to be recognized, not by an object but rather by another s desire. What one desires, then, is the other s desire. Lacan would reformulate these notions in terms of his own grasp of the analyst-analysand relationship and in developing a theory of unconscious psychic structure.

Kojeve became Lacan s intellectual and professorial ego ideal. Provocative and enigmatic, he interpreted elusive texts subversively and imaginatively, maintaining a distaste for publication (publication being synonymous with poubellication, a French pun suggesting placement into the garbage can). Kojeve was both marginal yet well respected within the Parisian university system. He defiantly claimed that his exegesis of Hegel in the 1930 s was fundamentally ôMarxist;ö he always referred to himself as a file:///C|/Internationalblog/Szajnberglacan-fisher.doc.html (8 of 15) [9/15/2011 4:36:54 PM] lacan-fisher.doc

ôstrict Stalinist.ö Lacan would subsequently refer to himself as ôa Freudian.ö His philosophical commentaries on Freud s texts were designed to disseminate and reinvigorate Freudian studies in France. They succeeded admirably. By 1936 Lacan became the bearer of his own personal theory, with the first draft of his article ôThe Mirror Stage.ö There is a parallel in the history of Hegelianism and of Freudianism in France; Lacan is the key figure in both histories. If intellectual France was Hegelian by the 1960 s, those cultural sectors influenced by psychoanalysis were Lacanian by the end of the same decade. Lacan situated his reading of Freud between Surrealism and Hegelianism. His theory emphasized the desire of the other, through the mediation of speech and language. After the Second World War and in the 1950 s, Lacan concluded the most creative aspect of his theoretical project by rethinking, in terms of structural linguistics, the Freudian concept of the unconscious, sexual desire, and the idea of the decentered subject, that is, the concept of primary and irreconciliable splits in the constitution of the psyche.

Sometime in 1932 Lacan entered analysis with Rudolph Loewenstein, who was himself trained in Berlin. Though only three years older than his analysand, Loewenstein arrived in Paris supported by Marie Bonaparte and quickly became a leading analyst of the French SPP, the Societe Psychanalytique de Paris, affiliated with the IPA. Lacan s analysis with Loewenstein lasted six years and ended sometime in 1938. Roudinesco considers it a ôfailure,ö despite Loewenstein s clinical finesse and personal decency. She claims that the analysis reached an impasse, that Loewenstein employed techniques then current in the IPA for attending to specific psychological symptoms and working through character resistances. Lacan could not abide the length of the sessions nor the duration of the treatment; he seems to have agreed to undertake the training analysis out of ôarrivisme,ö or plain opportunism, doing it to get the credential. Lacan, she asserts, was far less interested in the clinical dimensions of psychoanalysis than in its philosophical contours. He saw it as a theoretical journey, an intellectual mode of understanding the mind, a critical and self-reflexive contribution to cultural life, resulting in a contribution to the ôsymbolic.ö His version of psychoanalysis file:///C|/Internationalblog/Szajnberglacan-fisher.doc.html (9 of 15) [9/15/2011 4:36:54 PM] lacan-fisher.doc

had little to do with the expression or exploration of affects, of working through defensive self-deceptions, traumas or losses, or with the direct understanding of transference dynamics. Rivalry and envy, Roudinesco asserts, separated Loewenstein and Lacan, as well as major differences on key issues such as the death instinct (which Lacan defended and Loewenstein rejected).

Pre-World War II French psychoanalysis was notoriously ingrown and incestuous. The young Loewenstein was inevitably influenced, Roudinsco alleges, by the negative perceptions and anxiety about Lacan of Marie Bonaparte, who was then Loewenstein s lover. Roudinesco concludes that Lacan learned nothing in his training analysis. She proposes that Lacan had no transferential relations with any senior members of the Paris Society. The ideological dispute over psychoanalytic technique that erupted in the 1950 s may have been born in Lacan s incomplete or failed analysis with Loewenstein in the 1930 s. This would include Lacan s experiments with the short session and his fierce opposition to various tenets of ego psychology, including the concept of adaptation. Loewenstein was disappointed with Lacan, who had evidently promised to continue his analysis after he was accepted for full affiliation with the Paris Psychoanalytic Society, but who abruptly terminated his analysis. In a letter to Marie Bonaparte dated February 22, 1953, Loewenstein makes harsh and punitive statements about Lacan s character, clearly upset by the abrupt ending of his analysis; this judgmental letter violates analytic boundaries, breaches the confidentiality of the analytic situation, and privileges politics over the ethical responsibilities of the clinical relationship: ôWhat you tell me of Lacan is depressing. He always constituted for me a source of conflict: on the one hand, his lack of character, on the other, his intellectual value, which I prize highly, though not without violent disagreement. But the problem is that even though we had agreed he would continue his analysis after his election [into the Society], he did not come back. One does not cheat on so important a point without dire consequences (let this remain between us). I hope that his trainees who have been analyzed in a rush, that is, not analyzed at all, will not be accepted.ö (p. 122). Lacan s ôtrueö analyst, Roudinesco states, was Aimee, his paranoid patient. She file:///C|/Internationalblog/Szajnberglacan-fisher.doc.html (10 of 15) [9/15/2011 4:36:54 PM] lacan-fisher.doc

argues that Lacan s clinical experience with Aimee paralleled that of Freud s with Fliess; it was a ôspontaneous self-analysis.ö As for a direct relationship with Freud, there barely was one. Freud sent Lacan a polite postcard acknowledging receipt (but not necessarily the reading) of Lacan s 1932 medical thesis. When Freud went into exile, passing through Paris in 1938 on his way to London, Lacan declined an invitation to meet him. Yet he developed a permanent transference to Freud s writings; his own mission would be to found a kingdom in France receptive to the forms of knowledge and methods of inquiry to be discovered in Freud s texts. The key transferential tie was not personal, but an intellectual transference between author and reader, ultimately a method of reading texts psychoanalytically–informed by an understanding of transference and countertransference reactions to texts.

Roudinesco describes the mature Lacan of Jacques Lacan & Co. as a ôconstitutional monarchö a relatively benign autocrat. As his lectures in Paris became famous, as his followers multiplied, a movement developed where it became fashionable to hear the master speak, to parody his language, and to decode his increasingly obscure message. The late Lacan appeared to parody himself. Lacan s idiosyncrasies intensified. He needed to be loved or served; he gave way to capricious whims; he surrounded himself by sycophants and courtiers. After the publication of the Ecrits in 1966, Lacan became well recognized in the French intellectual world outside of psychoanalysis and psychiatry. He appeared on television. He saw himself grandiosely as the founding father of French psychoanalysis; but he operated as director, master thinker, legislator, and analyst of all concerned. Other scholars have pointed out the characterological and ideological affinities between Lacan and Breton (Fisher, 1991). By experimenting with a shorter analytic hour, Lacan became the principal analyst of an entire generation. Lacan legitimized his experiment with the short session by emphasizing the intensity, lack of routine, and the pressure and pleasure it placed on the analysand to embrace the analytic process. Since he rejected analyzing a patient s defenses, and since the temporal dimension of the unconscious works non-chronologically and in a non-linear fashion, Lacan justified the use of the short sessions analytically. For him the real focus file:///C|/Internationalblog/Szajnberglacan-fisher.doc.html (11 of 15) [9/15/2011 4:36:54 PM] lacan-fisher.doc

of the analysis was understanding the analysts resistances. Patients were expected to reveal defenses in the process of free associating; that was their job and a given in the analytic setting. Analysts, on the other hand, had to demonstrate a ruthless, consistent desire to analyze slips of the tongue, puns, pauses, punctuation, and various contradictions in the patient s words, as the process gradually flowed from empty to full speech. If the analyst was unaware of his own countertransference resistances, the patient s transference would be heightened. This ultimately interfered with the unleashing of free speech, the rich flow of associations, and with allowing the unconscious to speak. It was for this reason that an analyst needed to be psychoanalyzed.

Roudinesco, generous in her discussion of his technique, calls it ôuntransmittable.ö Lacan did not adopt a standard model of technique to be used with all analysands: he varied his approach widely and was iconoclastic; he trained a diversity of analysts each with little similarity to one another; he had no fixed appointment time and no determined length of a session; he was always in a rush; he could not refuse a case; he charged exorbitant fees yet practiced with a sliding scale; he treated many incurable and nonanalyzable cases, including those suffering from addictions, delinquency, and chronic suicidality.

Roudinesco argues that Lacan personally prevented many militants and extremely disturbed personalities from descending into terrorism, death, or madness. She quotes lengthy testimonials from his former analysands during these years. In a curious omission, she fails to comment on those testimonials, even though they are widely divergent as documents. Here, she apologizes for rather than explains or critiques Lacan. She holds that he had the courage to accept suicidal cases for treatment, whom other clinicians had refused. The alarming number of suicides (no statistics or evidence is provided) raises serious questions about Lacan s own unorthodox practice of psychoanalysis and suggests that his scandalous and libertine methods may have bordered on the unethical, even the harmful.

The story of Lacan s decline is sad. As the structuralists and poststructuralists aged, file:///C|/Internationalblog/Szajnberglacan-fisher.doc.html (12 of 15) [9/15/2011 4:36:54 PM] lacan-fisher.doc

their anti-humanism seemed to lapse into irrationality or massive self-sabotage. The elderly Lacan was greatly diminished, a fading shadow of his former self. Much of the Lacanian discourse in the period of the late 1960 s and 1970 s became lame, an imperialistic doctrine, reflecting the atrophy of creativity and intelligence in this sector of the Parisian intellectual world. Lacan s words, even if misunderstood, or inexplicable, were justified in the name of his genius. Roudinesco believes that Lacanism became ôpuns and cryptic languageö (p. 634), a language suitable only to disciples, to fanatical devotees. Prior to his death, Lacan alternated between lucidity and affability, descending into dissociation and silence.

With both weariness and dramatic intensity, Roudinesco recounts the episode of the dissolution and reestablishment of Lacan s school. An intense power struggle was unleashed to inherit Lacan s kingdom, including the right to issue and edit his unpublished texts. Here, French psychoanalysis displayed its ugliest and most primitive side. One analysand was publicly denounced by his analyst as a forger and swindler; factions accused each other of fraud and falsification of documents; insults, rumor, and violent vituperation accompanied an administrative rule by arbitrary whim and lack of accountability. Democratizing factions clashed with those advocating hierarchy. Roudinsesco understates this civil war, referring to ôthe conflictual, remarkable, odious reality of the French psychoanalytic scene.ö (p. 657). Counterattacks were mounted in the press and intellectual world, where the Lacanians were depicted as shallow, uncaring practitioners, and charlatans. Lacan came under intense scrutiny for being a false prophet, deeply invested in creating disciples. Hagiographers have replied (Schneiderman, 1983).

Perhaps a more accurate historical rendering would stress how the post-Lacanian world reflected many of the ambiguities of the Lacanian world. Without the presence of this unusual master, fusing leadership styles of Spinoza, de Gaulle, and Mao Tse-tung (along with a dash of Breton and Salvadore Dali), nothing could have held together this rebellious, ambitious, and anarchic association; this meant an association that was opposed to bureaucratization and standardization, that remained committed to file:///C|/Internationalblog/Szajnberglacan-fisher.doc.html (13 of 15) [9/15/2011 4:36:54 PM] lacan-fisher.doc

scandalous utterances and outrageous actions, and to the advancement of libertarian principles, ones that subverted loyalty to tradition and uncritical worship of authority. Roudinesco reports that at least 1600 Lacan analysts remained in France in 1985; Lacanism has firmly implanted itself in the Parisian publishing world and in the university. But its immediate legacy has been splits, splintering, intense bickering, and a tearing apart of the school. Roudinesco concludes with cautious optimism about Lacanism s ability to ôconquer the world,ö that is, pose a serious challenge to the theoretical and administrative apparatus of the IPA.

I returned to Paris on May Day, 1987. I was entertained by a psychoanalytic couple who were active in a splinter group of the Lacanian movement. They were highpowered and deeply committed, but they reminded me of the Parisian couple I encountered at Saint-Germain in the summer of 1975. The woman was currently a candidate at a Lacanian institute, after specializing in a psychoanalytic reading of Joyce s novels. Her partner, a physician, had been analyzed by Lacan. He judiciously refused to speak of that experience. He invited me to attend the group s meetings, to observe seminars and clinics, and even returning to Paris to learn in depth Lacanian technique. I was both flattered and offended by their proselytizing zeal for, after all, I was a proud faculty member at a psychoanalytic institute in Los Angeles, as well as a member of the American Psychoanalytic Association and the IPA. With slight malice, I offered a Lacanian interpretation of the analysand s interminable idealization of his analyst, as a way to temper his messianic enthusiasm, to mute the glorification of the dead master. I quoted Lacan s phrase about transference: the analysand views the analyst as ôthe subject who is supposed to know.ö Without hesitation, the Lacanian replied to me with yet another epistemological proposition: ôWhat happens if your analyst truly knows?ö Lacan, he implied, was such a knower. Those who worshipped him and his theory could not accept a critique or non-alliance; those who deified his language were impervious to others speaking an alternative language, or wishing to speak in their own voice.

* 1800 Fairburn Avenue, Suite 203 Los Angeles, CA 90025 djamesfisher@aol.com Senior Faculty, New Center for Psychoanalysis (Los Angeles); Training and Supervising Analyst, Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis. A previous version of this essay appeared in Psychoanalytic Books, Vol. 5, l994, pp. 365-378. file:///C|/Internationalblog/Szajnberglacan-fisher.doc.html (15 of 15) [9/15/2011 4:36:54 PM]

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2 Comments on “The Lacanian Movement in France by David James Fisher with Introduction by Nathan Szajnberg”

  1. Tamar Schwartz Says:

    Comment from André Haynal

    Thank you from the heart for sending me your thoughts about Roudinesco’s work on Lacan. Our opinions are very close even if I think that on the clinical psychoanalytical scene, his influence was destructive. What he gained on one side by his dialogue with other human sciences, especially by literary people and philosophers, he lost on the other side the public confidence in psychoanalysis’ therapeutic power and even seriousness. I don’t think he can really be compared to Freud, or even Winnicott or Bion.

    It would be a pleasure to discuss this subject further with you.

    Best, André Haynal

  2. Dr Jay Watts Says:

    Thank you for this interesting piece on Roudinesco’s book. I must say I have seen obsessive worshipping of would-be masters from all sections of the psychoanalytic world, not least from schools within the IPA. Unfortunately, all psychoanalytic trainings are so insular, and the commitment to one’s own analysis so intense and costly, that very few shrinks recognise the value of something different. The best clinicians I have worked with and been taught by have always developed a looser relationship with any master – be that Freud, Lacan, Klein or Winnicott.


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