Alexander Smulyanskiy

The Clinic in the Hole: How the Question of Admission

Generates and Destabilizes the Psychoanalytic Institutions Today

transl. by Evgenia Konoreva

(The afterword to the Russian translation of Gabriel Tupinambá's "Desire of Psychoanalysis")

In a lecture on June 10, 1970, Lacan talks about the university reform “in the hole,” thereby, polemizing with the rhetoric of the university reform’s failure popular at his time. Instead of pursuing the discussion about the character of the reformations constantly produced in college, Lacan demanded to question the functioning of the “University” as such, insisting that it fell on hard times regardless of the actions taken by its leaders and the officials responsible for education.

The indication of this difficulty was encoded in Lacan’s “university discourse” that demonstrated that sooner or later “the University” would arrive at a situation from which it is not possible to move an inch because the dynamics inherent in its discourse exclude an autonomous choice of direction. Instead of leading society towards progressive transformations by enlightening and perfecting all the new generations of subjects, “the university” exists in a space that Lacan calls “a hole.” What happens in this hole – Lacan is quite explicit about this kind of a hole – is, nonetheless, not motionless. Lacan compares it with the whirlwind hole which could be understood as follows: whenever the social and political situation heats up, the whirlwind sets into new motion so that the subjects in the university system are immobilized regardless of their position in the hierarchy, whereas every innovation, no matter how benevolent and emancipatory it was intended to be, spins the whirlwind even tighter. 

That is why one of the goals of the famous Vincennes speech read for the student activists ardently striving for positions in the university self-government was Lacan’s intention to inform them about the impotence and doom of the so-called “grassroots education reform.” In their reliance on the latter as the opportunity to abolish the university hierarchy of the “student-teacher-management” system, the activists were not able to hear Lacan’s message that these measures were not only obsolete but they had been obsolete right at the outset. A revolutionary aspiration to abolish the existing hierarchy always emerges in the context of the abolishment of the discourse’s participants’ ability to affect the situation that has already occurred but in a different way. Therefore, in the face of this abolition, both the professor as well as the student are equally powerless.

Today, no one reforms “the University” or expects the changes in its structure to become a leading force in the broader transformations of the social order. Instead, academia is being constantly adjusted to the political situation in a manner that, depending on the vector of the regimes in the countries that polarize on a new confrontation axis, the universities are subjected to restructuring adjusting them either to follow the post-colonial ethics amendments, or, on the contrary, to submit to the state anti-Western censorship. These were the consequences of the academic reform’s exhaustion foreseen by Lacan, the exhaustion of reform’s possibilities that affects any reformer regardless of their position.

The warning about the “whirlwind” was issued by Lacan in the same seminary season1 wherein he postulated the existence of other discourses, including the “analytic” one. However, the latter’s representatives have never considered that something similar to the “university discourse’s” fate could at a certain point become the fate of their own. Among the circles affected by Lacan’s ideas, the psychoanalytic discourse has always been perceived as an unshakeable refuge and a secure shelter from the effects produced by a political situation or by other discourses. The Lacanian psychoanalyst has always acted and perceived her own position as if her motto were: “The analyst’s discourse is with us: Gott mit uns!»

Nevertheless, Lacan has never suggested that the discourse of the analyst should be regarded as some kind of permanence, and he has never guaranteed that the situation he created was immune from the processes that historically subverted the formations and the institutions within other discourses. Moreover, a security of this sort would contradict the situation described by Lacan in which the discourses, while maintaining their difference but being built upon the same function, indicate the impossibility of relying on them in a previously operative manner.

One of the indirect confirmations of this growing impossibility is the increasingly obscure fate of the very Lacanian undertaking itself. Among those who follow the fate of Lacan’s texts there are many who perceive them as some precious fireproof contents waiting in the wings for the knowledge that is presumably contained in them to be fully revealed. Yet, the fate of this knowledge is unreservedly subject to the process of the forclusion operation described by Lacan himself as the loss of the opportunity to be mastered and maintained after its expiration date inherent in the inherited object. This is exactly what happens with the texts of Lacan’s seminars today: at the first glance, it seems that their study is in full swing but it actually demonstrates the signs of approaching decay. 

Therefore, the results of exploring Lacan’s teaching still have a transitional character, moreover, from a certain point, by plunging into an increasingly flaccid commentary of generalities, they suffered a loss of productive capacity. This means that Lacan’s enterprise is much more fragile than it occurs to many of its followers up to the point that without a proper effort on their part “Lacan” as a project can easily disappear, even given that his name is formally maintained in the names of various schools and associations. In Russia, where “Lacan” is often practiced without observing the theoretical and clinical abstinence obviously required by his approach – so that someone striving in the study of structural psychoanalysis can simultaneously reckon among other psychological schools, lead a group “training,” or even turn a penny by coaching – Lacan’s endeavor, despite its unfading popularity, and paradoxically even because of it, is more fragile than ever. 

At the same time, along with these additional circumstances capable of terminating the existence of Lacan’s endeavor due to its followers’ insufficient faithfulness, there exists something that can sabotage the procedure of practicing this faithfulness from within itself, because taken at the level of the object Lacan’s teaching is initially split. Having been dealing with this split right from the start, Lacanian psychoanalysts, nevertheless, were able to avoid its consequences for some time. The paradoxicality of Lacanian experts’ position lies in the fact that the very necessity to sustain faithfulness to Lacan’s enterprise is increasingly and irreversibly subverted by what stems from Lacan’s own desire that is linked with his enterprise but is not identical to it. 

When considered from a more or less sufficient time distance, what this desire demonstrates in the first place is the fact that, despite its name, the very purpose of the “discourse of the analyst” introduced by Lacan is not the purifying isolation of the psychoanalytic practice from other practices with which psychoanalysis could be unduly confounded. Instead, it is the psychoanalyst’s energetic entry into the public scene after more than a thirty-year-long retreat following Freud’s death that witnessed a temporary loss of the psychoanalysis’s intention to relate to the so-called “current intellectual situation.” 

On the contrary, Lacan resumes open contact with the variously intellectually involved subjects, including the subject of contemporary art who keeps close to the intellectual and the “political activist,” accompanying both of them. Having wished that in the sphere of intellectual intervention, the psychoanalytic clinic should be valued no less than the contribution of philosophers, art critics, and political activists, Lacan had not simply pushed the boundaries of psychoanalysts’ credentials2 but set a precedent that significantly affected the claims of those who are called the “analysands.” Nothing of this sort had taken place in the psychoanalytic field since the time of Freud’s first clinical cases, so even if it was not an unprecedented change – these were already the first Freudian psychoanalysts who implicitly expected to treat if not publicly and culturally famous figures but the subjects who still regarded themselves as active connoisseurs – at least, it was an intention to stop obscuring the existing linkage between the psychoanalysis and the intellectual field. 

At the same time, a significant number of psychoanalysts still do not want to hear anything about the growing power of this liaison and keep treating their patients as if the latter were shedding their intellectual and other commitments right in front of their office, facing the upcoming clinical intervention as a tabula rasa. There is undoubtedly a typical Christian note in this kind of expectation that tunes the meeting and implies that in front of the analyst, the patient appears naked and deprived of all their significant representations. The latter, in accordance with the existing rules of psychoanalytic abstinence, are readily passed as the manifestations of the “Imaginary” even for the Lacanian specialist whose ear is still not entirely open to the precedent set by Lacan. Psychoanalysis envisages the analysand the necessity to abandon a serious approach to their views along with all the other sustained identifications that, presumably, obstruct the course of treatment. 

Even prior to being adopted by the Lacanians this pastorale has been destroyed beforehand by Lacan’s entry into the broad intellectual scene, considering that this destruction was not intended by him – at least not directly. The scores he planned to settle with his colleagues publicly never concerned the analyst’s right to autonomy in his actions in the office. Instead, Lacan believed that the analysts he criticized practiced autonomy insufficiently, perhaps, even erroneously, since they could have been driven by motives different from analytic ones – for example, the humanistic and supportive or primitively healing. 

However, it was the actions – but not the speeches – of Lacan himself, i.e., the strategy and the trajectory of his ideas’ advancement that shook the previously established alignment. Even if this question had never been put directly, it was obvious to the analysts of the previous agenda that Lacan moved psychoanalysis into a supposedly hostile territory. As long as psychoanalysis, which entered the mode of autonomous self-reproduction after Freud’s death, did not claim for its theoretical product to be considered beyond the circles of practicing specialists, the intellectual community did not have questions for the psychoanalyst. Yet, having stepped into the territory inhabited by this public, Lacan opened psychoanalysis again for the intellectual’s claims.

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