Psychoanalytic principles

Under Analysis Last week, I reluctantly set two Google Alerts, to receive emails every time something had been published on the Internet where the words “seduction” or “Lacan” featured. I have to say I was a skeptic, since I subscribe to various jiscmail and yahoo groups, which mostly clog my inbox. One of them goes straight into a folder, marked as read. I don’t unsubscribe as it has the function of reminding me I must do something about dancing. But that is another story and I don’t want to veer from my track.

I was surprised, therefore, when my first email alerts were not an endless list of links. Reading through the carefully chosen excerpts was a little like browsing through a journal’s content page. Not an entirely useless exercise. It was as if I had had a personal shopper or some of those customized experiences that leave you feeling you can cope with the overwhelming world of commodities (and information IS a commodity), that somehow there are maps and ways of navigating.

Then, amidst all this daydreaming – what is research if not a lot of that – a link jumped at me. Ever since I chaired the Psychoanalysis in Doctoral Research panel at the Rigorous Holes: Perspectives on Psychoanalytic Theory in Art and Performance Research workshop, and heard Professor Naomi Segal speak, I have been concerned about psychoanalytic principles. In her workshop “How to do psychoanalytic things with words” she positioned herself as follows, before making us read and comment on a series of texts:

First principles:
Psychoanalysis is a theory of mind that sees human subjectivity as rooted in three elements: the body, social/familial structures and language. All the theories of psychoanalysis put these into different configurations and see the ways that the theory can be used in differently configured ways. But they follow the principles that:

  • the human mind functions as much unconsciously as consciously;
  • everything is an utterance and no utterance is innocent;
  • utterances are always motivated by forms of desire.

This is even more poignant for me now that I am trying to put together an Art and Psychoanalysis course for Postgraduate Art Design and Architecture students, aimed at introducing them to the idea of thinking psychoanalytically. What are the principles for that? How is thinking, acting psychoanalytically different from other forms? How am I to teach them this in 15 weeks with no previous training or even exposure to psychoanalytic texts? How will I avoid getting bogged down by psychoanalysis and get them into action (as the assessment will be a series of interventions)? How will I find exciting ways to join up art and psychoanalysis that are faithful to both fields and still manage to create something different?

You see what I am driving at. Students will now about artistic principles, but my first task will be to dismantle their received ideas about psychoanalysis and, more importantly, about psychoanalysis as a theory. I cannot send them in to see a psychoanalyst for 15 weeks, as much as I would like to; time and money, the two most important constants in psychoanalysis are against me. So I have to find a pretty effective way soon, if I am to succeed with this course and, on the back of my mind, Professor Segal principles were the beginning of the key. But not enough.

One of the excerpts in the Google Alert I received last week was entitled “What are the Guiding Principles of Psychoanalysis?” and linked me to the interesting Drugs in Milk blog. Now that’s the question I had been asking myself since May 2007. The entry was short, and to the point. It simply linked to an also short and to-the-point article in by Eric Laurent: Guiding Principles for Any Psychoanalytic Act.

His eight principles are a great summary of psychoanalysis, as a relational practice, something I want to come across in my seminars and in my PhD. He discussed the key problems within the History of the Psychoanalytic movement, its wars, the issues around training within Universities, the length and frequency of treatment and, importantly, the setting. At the very end of these exquisite two and a half pages, Lauren talks about the status of the psychoanalyst within society and about his authority within it. He says:

A psychoanalyst is one who affirms that he has obtained from the psychoanalytic experience what he could have hoped for from it and therefore that he has crossed over a “pass”, as Lacan called it. Here he testifies to having crossed over his impasses. The interlocution by which he wishes to obtain an agreement over this crossing over occurs in institutional settings. More profoundly, it is inscribed within the Great Conversation between psychoanalysis and civilization. A psychoanalyst is not autistic. He does not fail to address himself to the benevolent interlocutor, enlightened opinion, which he wishes to move and to reach out to, in favour of the cause of psychoanalysis.

Here’s something Art students will understand and feel related to, something they will feel recognized by, or so I hope. Here’s the bridge between artist and psychoanalyst. A bridge that somewhat conflicts with some of the issues I have been developing around Lacan’s Discourse of the Analyst, where the artwork occupies, in the gallery, the space of the analyst in the consulting room (this is not mine, but Sharon Kivland’s. It is, nonetheless, where my contribution to knowledge stems from). But that doesn’t matter to me too much. I have two years to sort it out, look for a compromise, make my analogy more fluid and work out how art and psychoanalysis are seductive practices, in themselves.

Image credits: The psychoanalytic couch; An Associated Press photo by Bob Wands; from (mass)think!. “A doctor listens to a patient digging into her past at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute Treatment Center in New York, April 25, 1956. The psychoanalyst’s couch has provided material for endless jokes and cartoons since Sigmund Freud developed this method of treatment for neuroses. Some modern analysts discard it in favor of face to face sessions, but the method of “free association” to give the doctor clues to the patient’s hidden fears and problems is accepted even by dissidents from Freudian theories. (AP Photo/Bob Wands)”