Translated by Ignas Gutauskas


Original post in Russian

Edited by Eugenia Konoreva


Alexander Smulyanskiy. A Comment on Slavoj Žižek’s Foreword to “The Desire of Psychoanalysis”.

A Russian translation of Gabriel Tupinambá’s book “The Desire of Psychoanalysis” is being prepared for publication. The book is one of the few works on psychoanalytic theory that managed to inspire Slavoj Žižek, who saw in it an elaboration of his traditional bitter struggle with orthodox Lacanianism. Dealing with the original manuscript, it is curious to assess what Žižek, who wrote the foreword to the book, actually managed to make out of Tupinambá’s expositions and what, on the contrary, remained a kind of blind spot for him. In particular, in view of Žižek’s lack of experience of professional immersing in the content typical to the discussions within the clinical community.

Thus, Žižek predictably – though no less shrewdly – focuses on the critique of the privileges of economic and social order associated with the place occupied by the psychoanalyst. This could be pure and excessive respectability of specialists – even being limited to a narrow circle of their community; mutual economic responsibility implying that the original meaning of the didactic analysants’ payment turns into a sort of artel or community fee for the right to carry on with their own practice; psychoanalysts’ depreciation of contributions to psychoanalytical theory made by non-clinicians (but by a philosopher, for example).

However, there is still something that Žižek underestimates. First and foremost, it is precisely the way the privileges are won and sustained within the communities which cannot be assessed fully from the viewpoint of a mere socio-economic critique of psychoanalysis. This way is aptly illustrated by the famous dispute within the Lacanian community about “the (im)possibility of knowledge”, or  “the subject supposed to know”, which Žižek mentions only indirectly and hastily considers resolved.

This dispute, though, is crucial for the functioning of Lacanian communities. Furthermore, it is necessarily and intentionally maintained as unresolved since its very practice contains the possibility to separate “the pure from the impure” and redistribute privileges. A clinician who raises this question invariably appeals to those places of Lacanian exposition where Lacan reminds us that the subject by its very ‘nature’ cannot rely upon the completeness of knowledge either in relation to oneself or to any external authority.

The conclusions drawn from this set of Lacanian assertions indicate the dynamics of internal and external struggle in professional communities whose members paradoxically compete but in the opposite way than implied by Žižek. Thus, the winner here is usually the one who managed to insist that in relation to the unfathomable Lacanian doctrine itself he is modestly prepared to declare himself the least ‘knowing’ of all. These sorts of gestures are called upon to demonstrate that such a subject has come to terms with his “lack” to a greater extent. In this way, he is likely more immune to common temptations which, supposedly, makes his position more “Lacanian-authentic”.

Against this background, it is noteworthy that Lacan himself never lamented about it and did not make these sort of claims to his followers, reproaching them rather for their lack of assiduity in further theoretical investigations. Lacan’s indication of the psychoanalyst’s lack is based on a completely different theoretical – more so than simplistically ethical – rationale. It can be summed up as only one requirement, namely, not to infer the coincidence of the instance of the signifier and the place it creates, a misalignment required by the signifier “psychoanalyst” in the first place.

In this sense, a practitioner of “professional self-deprecation” differs from Lacan himself, who did not need to resort to any ressentiment efforts in order to maintain the misalignment between his own nomination as a psychoanalyst and the “place” he thus occupied. In his case, it sufficed to do something beyond psychoanalysis, which does not mean that he abandoned the latter’s field. Nevertheless, he operated within this field quite ambiguously, given this ambiguity has never been as scandalous at it is usually perceived.

On the contrary, the remarkableness of this ambiguity is the fact that historically it was legitimized by Freud himself, who also held his place by virtue of his constant passages to other fields of knowledge along with a number of not always transparent institutional vicissitudes. For a contemporary psychoanalyst, the circumstances related to these vicissitudes, including the biographically discovered ones in Freud’s and later in Lacan’s own positions, are truly nightmarish: perceiving them as an evidence of the impurity of the procedure of “analyst production” he cannot afford them under any circumstances.

Thereby, the radical distinction between the way of maintaining the sought-for misalignment between the signifier and the place inherent to Lacan on one side and his followers on the other side is revealed. The erroneous ethical reassessment of this misalignment requires the subject to incessantly pull up, to struggle with the intention to claim a special status of “psychoanalyst per se” perceived as a temptation and a lure. “Remember, no one here is a full-blown analyst since no one has privileged access to the totality of clinical and theoretical knowledge” – a judgment that Žižek rightly exposes as creating a flair of “false democratism”, because everyone is well aware that this maxim has no truly democratizing impact on the professional community. In any given community there will always remain elders-psychoanalysts whose status is not questioned or cannot be abused by them or by those around them.

What we have to demonstrate – and what Žižek precisely does not do – is that the roots of this malpractice cannot be reduced to the breakdown of the “democratizing judgment” itself, which fails ostensibly for some external reason (e.g., the “general irremovability” of power hierarchies in any human community). On the contrary, this failure is envisaged by the act of judgment itself since it contains the erroneous employment of Lacanian ideology. There is no need to specifically demonstrate that the imperative “do not claim authority and be mindful of the common lack” is fraught with a peculiar and malignant psy-practice of humility; nor is there any necessity to explain that there is nothing more alien to the Lacanian spirit than the obsessive activity of this sort. It is not hard to show that what hides behind such humility – as it happens quite often in the echo of religious discourse that emerges here – is even greater volume of pretensions and intolerance toward analysts who “are not entirely pure” in their professional thoughts.

It is more than likely that if Žižek was as battered and tempered in psychoanalytic couloirs as the author of the book, all the theoretical and topological demonstrations practiced by Tupinambá, including an implicit critique of Jean-Michel Vappereau (which adds extra piquancy for those who are acquainted with the topic) would make the Žižekian approval more purposeful.