Ivan Skopin

Psychoanalyst in Question

Let us act as if, another provisional convenience, Freud had not had an analyst. This is even what is often said with much ingenuousness. Suppose now that this founder, this so-called institutor of the analytic movement, had need of a supplementary tranche. Then this unanalyzed remainder which in the last analysis relates it to the absolute outside of the analytic milieu will not play the role of a border, will not have the form of a limit around the psychoanalytic, that to which the psychoanalytic as theory and as practice would not, alas, have had access, as if there still remained some ground for it to gain. Not at all. This unanalyzed will be, will have been that upon which and around which the analytic movement will have been constructed and mobilized: everything will have been constructed and calculated so that this unanalyzed might be inherited, protected, transmitted intact, suitably bequeathed, consolidated, enkysted, encrypted. It is what gives its structure to the movement and to its architecture.

Jacques Derrida, “The Post Card”

The considerations I would like to share with you today were inspired by a series of observations concerning the way psychoanalysts tend to act in public. For example, for some reason they cannot sit still, if I may say so, when something interrupts their daily routine and they get involved in various public discussions.

For instance, this happens when the figure of an impostor appears on the horizon, which causes genuine anxiety among the analysts: they just cannot leave this figure without attention. They immediately build a symbolic fence around the impostor, this bad inner object, claiming that he has not passed through the procedures required to become a psychoanalyst. However, when the fence, as they think, is strong enough, the anxiety still does not disappear, forcing the discussion to move on to the question: what procedures actually make the subject an analyst. Having recited all the criteria and requirements that are usually at hand, they eventually agree—and that is a more or less satisfactory answer—that it is enough to undergo one’s own analysis.

It happens though that the discussion does not stop here. And then one discovers that what was considered the last point does not seem to be sufficiently reliable. One finds out that there still could have been something wrong even with a seemingly safely passed analysis.

For instance, it was conducted by a person of dubious reputation, or it was a purely formal analysis, or the analysis was performed with some violations, or, what is more often the case, not much is known about this analysis at all. In short, different kinds of suspicions start bothering those who have already been recognized in the community as practicing analysts.

Yet, following the flow of such discussions it is hard to shake the feeling that what keeps the analysts to maintain this discussion is that now, with the appearance of the imposter, they are not only confronted by a question but find themselves in question.

It is as if at this moment every analyst were unconsciously unsure that she is an analyst herself, that she herself has fully passed the procedures she insists on. It is as if all along she has been keeping a suspicion that there was “something wrong” in the analysis of any subject, including her own; that after all the analyst finds herself an impostor. This is what prompts the feverish re-examination of the formal criteria, as if the analysts need to make sure again that they are indeed what they are and they know what it means. This very necessity points towards the existence of some troubles with the way the subject deals with the analytic position as such.

My other observations refer to the case when a psychoanalyst needs to commit the so-called act of self-presentation—sometimes, half-jokingly and half-seriously referred to as “coming-out”—i.e., a moment a subject decides to announce that she starts seeing analysands. One can observe the unease that accompanies this act, the unease forcing the subject to supplement her text with an awkward irony about the act itself, to somehow play it up. It looks like here as well, the analyst does not feel quite right doing what she is doing seriously, as if she is doing something inappropriate: as a psychoanalyst she finds herself in question.

My further observations are related to the cases when the analysts decide to form a community. The most common anxiety in such cases has to do with the question of group identification, as if the presence of this identification mark indicates that something wrong has happened to them, something inappropriate to being the psychoanalyst as such. Sometimes this anxiety pushes the analysts to take very unusual measures. Once I came across a website of a psychoanalytic community that proudly proclaimed to have successfully dealt with this particular problem. Their solution was to choose two heads instead of one, so that the two leaders succeeded each other according to some cunning scheme. One can only wonder what made this group of analysts think that there can only be a single identification with one leader, so that the presence of the two leading figures could somehow solve this “problem.”

These observations led me to the following thoughts.

* * *

Psychoanalysis begins with a lacuna. And the place of this lacuna is what, after Lacan, has been called “Freud’s desire.”

First of all, I would like to emphasize that we are not talking about Freud’s desire in the sense of some private desire. What we deal with here is a structural element that is located, as something irreducible, within the project called psychoanalysis.

One more clarification. My primary interest does not concern what could be conventionally called the “substance” of this desire, i.e. the phantasmatic scenario supporting it, but the lacuna irreducibly inscribed in this desire, something that can never be articulated. Below I will provide an explanation why this perspective is necessary for the consideration of Freud’s desire.

To start with, the above mentioned lacuna is not just located in Freud’s desire, but it is from this lacuna that this desire (being the desire) is forced to begin, just as a paragraph begins with an indention. Freud did not simply create psychoanalysis but put the principle of desire at its core1. This means that any subject entering this territory must present her own desire, while commensurating what she is doing with a specific ego-ideal. So, in addition to an idea of what psychoanalysis is, the subject is provided with an idea of a certain standard that is inseparable from it—an idea that psychoanalysis just cannot be of any sort.

In other words, by placing the desire at the very core of psychoanalysis, Freud not only created the idea that this psychoanalysis should be of a certain kind, that any way of acting is not appropriate here, but he also showed the way of dealing with this desire. The ego-ideal is what pushes psychoanalysts to complain that their colleagues’ modus operandi is not at the level it should be. And they do complain because this is the way Freud himself dealt with the desire inscribed in the condition of psychoanalysis: when he questioned the theoretical research of his followers and their methods of clinical practice, he himself presented a different image of desire. Freud treated the desire inscribed in psychoanalysis with the utmost jealousy, and from then on this forces the analysts to be as jealous as Freud was.

In this way, this ego-ideal should serve the psychoanalysts as a compass, as a guiding star that would not let them stray from Freud’s path, but at the same time it is the point of an essential and inevitable difficulty.

The point is that the lacuna within Freud’s desire permanently deprives the psychoanalysts of the certainty that the way they act corresponds to the level of the ego-ideal deriving from this desire. The latter forces them to continually re-examine the psychoanalytic knowledge (the most large-scale re-examination belongs to Lacan) to make sure that in the process of this ego-ideal’s assimilation they have not missed anything crucial.

One can question any act, be it clinical or theoretical, in the light of this lacuna. And “can” here means neither some untapped potential that remains inactive for a while nor anything that may or may not happen to any particular analyst. “Can” here points towards the thing that produces its effects from the very beginning. If any act of any analyst can be questioned, then it is always in question.

Yet, the fact that the psychoanalyst has nothing else to rely her acts on but Freud’s desire also turns out to be an essential circumstance. Only Freud’s desire can give an idea of what is going on in psychoanalysis, and only the ego-ideal as the image of this desire, as a way of dealing with this desire, makes it possible for the subject to understand whether she, as a supposed psychoanalyst, with her analytic desire is at the level appropriate to psychoanalysis. This does not only apply to those who believe themselves to be “Freudian heirs” but also to the so-called “apostates.” After all, Jungianism is also based on Freud’s desire which Jung dealt with in his own way. For this reason, there is no Jung’s desire of which one can be jealous, therefore, there could never appear a call to “return to Jung.”

But because of the irreducible lacuna I have just mentioned, because there is always something unknown within this desire, it is also impossible to rely on it. In other words, Freud’s desire serves as a condition of possibility and at the same time as a condition of impossibility. It is in the face of this (im)possibility that the subject who eventually enters this territory has to act, since the impossibility is not the point where everything ends but, on the contrary, the condition where everything starts. What we see here is precisely the various ways the subject acquires to get along with this (im)possibility. A psychoanalyst is someone who gets along with the (im)possibility of being a psychoanalyst, and psychoanalysis is a project that tries to go on subsisting under the condition of its own (im)possibility.

Sometimes, this ambivalence inscribed at the level of conditions forces psychoanalysts to search for a reliance elsewhere, for example, in the university discourse. But since these acts are also taking place on the psychoanalytic territory, they are similarly susceptible to being immediately called into question. In a sense, the latter is for the best because it serves as an inevitable obstacle to the university’s appropriation of psychoanalysis. The psychoanalytic knowledge defies transformation into the university one precisely because of the irreducibility of Freud’s desire. I would like to say a few words about this in particular.

What is the difference between the university knowledge and the psychoanalytic one (considering that the discourse schemes from Seminar XVII do not actually exhaust what can be said on this matter)?

Everyone knows this story told by Lacan (which some people rightly tend to categorize as a mythological one): the knowledge—having been stolen from the slave and transformed into the master’s knowledge—became the basis of what has turned out to be modern science and university discourse. For some unknown reason, Lacan says, the slave’s knowledge starts to disturb the Master, whereas philosophy plays a significant role in this story. Somehow the Master—not necessarily embodied in any particular person but as a structural agency—subjected knowledge to a certain transformation. Once the knowledge had become the Master’s one, it was divided into the legitimate and the illegitimate parts; it was also centralized which resulted in the emergence of the modern university with its efforts to create a unified educational program.

I guess you all know the usual ways of legitimizing scientific knowledge: compiling a bibliography, relying on authoritative primary sources, a specific argumentation system including the support based on empirical evidence. Last but not least it is a necessity to certify education by specific paperwork, so that the knowledge acquired by the subject in the course of training is legitimized.

Whereas all these measures are indeed operative on the territory of master’s knowledge, on the psychoanalytic territory they simply do not work. Thus, compiling a bibliography, i.e. references to authoritative primary sources, does not have any effect, nor does any evidence, say, in the form of empirical data. At the very least, they work in some other way—I will talk about it below. Whenever an analyst tries to articulate something referring, say, to Lacan, there emerges a possibility to point out that she is dealing with Lacan not at the level of Lacan’s own discourse. The same is true of clinical data that in this case could be considered an analog to empirical evidence: there is always a possibility to say that the analyst has mishandled the clinical material, that her analytic desire along with her analytic ego-ideal are not at the level they should be given that it has to rely on Freud’s desire. Her analytic interpretations could be questioned whether they are analytic enough, she could be told that they are anything but what one would expect of an analyst.

It was already Freud who faced the fact that neither the bibliography nor the precision of argumentation worked as expected. No matter how extensive a bibliographic review he presented in his Totem and Taboo, no matter which authoritative authors he referred to, none of this kept the book from becoming one of his most dubious works. Moreover, what often forced Freud to resort to bibliography is precisely the fact that the knowledge he offered had too dubious and problematic nature to be brought to the public—and the public’s response in the form of the most radical suspicion was not long in coming.

The same is true of evidence: whatever evidence, for example the evidence to prove the existence of the unconscious, he may have provided throughout his entire oeuvre, the very necessity of providing it speaks of a total failure. At the very least, this evidence did not work the way it did in science.

Hence Lacan in his turn hardly ever refers to anyone at all or tries to prove anything scientifically. In other words, a psychoanalyst may or may not refer to anyone—it just does not matter.

It is not hard to see that there is no centralization of knowledge in the world of psychoanalysis. A textbook on psychoanalysis, even if recommended by appropriate authorities, is just another book on psychoanalysis, perhaps it is not the most interesting one and it is certainly not compulsory. The textbook itself is usually a conglomeration of disparate doctrines with little coherence between them. The lack of centralization also means that the psychoanalyst has no authority to which she can turn to legitimize the knowledge she subscribes to, to legitimize her position and her acts following from it.

Unlike the university discourse, the discourse of the analyst begins only at the moment when the subject presents her desire, and thus presents herself as desiring. The only ground for the clinic as well as for the psychoanalytic theory is the presentation of desire.

Yet, right from the outset any desire would be called into question here by the lacuna within Freud’s desire that does not provide a definitive answer to the question how the analytic ego-ideal should work this time. As for what I said above concerning the ego-ideal and the level appropriate to it: illegitimate things are not those that do not match the ego-ideal; in fact, such things simply do not become a part of psychoanalytic knowledge.

How, after all, could university procedures of knowledge legitimization, say, primary source citations, work in psychoanalysis?

The best illustration for this is Ella Sharp's case discussed by Lacan in Seminar VI. Without going into detail, I would turn directly to Lacan’s conclusions. The most significant correction he makes to Ella Sharp’s interpretation concerns the point where she suggests that the subject considered his phallus a dangerous organ. Lacan says that this moment should be discussed at a different level where the phallus is the signifier—and what is more it is not just any signifier but the signifier of the subject’s desire. In other words, what the analysand was holding back was not the organ but desire. It was the desire per se that he was holding back from presenting. Moreover, it is not just the desire but its very existence that is at stake here: he held back from presenting himself as desiring. So, in order to retain his position as a subject and yet to keep holding back his desire, Sharp’s analysand came up with a cunning solution: he would say “bowwow.” To say “bowwow” in his case was to hide himself behind the other’s signifier that would indicate that he, the subject, was not there. Sharp’s analysand speaks about his fantasy: he is in a room where he should not be; and he imagines that someone might enter thinking he is there—then he could say “bowwow” so that whoever was about to enter would think: “Oh, it is only a dog in there,” and the subject would thus remain undiscovered. In other words, what would remain undiscovered is his desire and the fact that he is a desiring subject2.

The main difference between the master’s knowledge within the university discourse and the psychoanalytic one is that the desire has been eliminated from the former. Therefore, the signifiers of this knowledge can now be combined without the involvement of subjective lack. The play of signifiers must work as if by itself, so that the result of this play would not be dictated by any desire. The only thing remaining for the subject is the satisfaction that is possible at the moment when the combination of signifiers is put together, when each signifier falls into its proper place.

Unlike the scientific knowledge, the psychoanalytic one needs desire for its functioning: the dimension of subjective lack is intrinsic to that combinatorics of signifiers that constitute the psychoanalytic S₂.

So, the role of “bowwow” in the case of Ella Sharp’s analysand can be performed by what in the university discourse functions as a procedure of knowledge legitimization. Referring to an authoritative source means hiding behind the other’s signifier, holding back from presenting one’s own desire in particular theoretical decision.

Sometimes the analysts also say “bowwow” during their sessions, for example, if they interpret the analysand’s relationships as being organized according to Scheme L. Doing that, the analyst uses “Scheme L” as the other’s signifier which demonstrates that the analyst herself has nothing to do with it, that this is just what Lacan wrote, that the analyst is not there.

What makes the analyst do so is the same irreducible lacuna of the irreducible Freud’s desire that compels her to believe that the desire she can present—both in theoretical research and in clinical work—will not be at the level of Freud’s desire, of the desire that makes analysis possible also in her own case. She is concerned whether her words are appropriate for the psychoanalysis created by particular Freud’s desire, and whether her acts are at the level the psychoanalyst should act.

To present one’s desire and oneself as a desiring person, means to open oneself up to the possibility of questioning oneself as an analyst. Thereby, there remains nothing that could not be questioned.

Given the lacuna in Freud’s desire, it is possible among other things to call into question what Freud himself said, which has been done repeatedly. Many, including Lacan, have claimed that some of Freud’s analytic decisions were not at the level of the desire that he himself made the basis of psychoanalysis. This lacuna allowed Lacan to revise psychoanalytic knowledge so that this revision was launched with the rejection of many Freudian concepts. For example, Lacan begins by discarding both Freudian topics as a bundle of three terms and proposing his own topic.

But it was the same thing that forced both Freud and Lacan to constantly revise their own theories. As soon as the signifiers introduced by Freud or Lacan were in a certain way appropriated by their milieu, they became those other’s signifiers that indicate the absence of the desiring subject in a given place. For this reason, and not for the so-called creative evolution or the natural development of thought, they were constantly forced to introduce more and more new signifiers.

The lacuna within Freud’s desire enables calling into question not only what has been said by him (elsewhere) but also what has been said about the very substance of Freud’s desire. For this reason, the perspective for our discussion is set by the lacuna with which Freud’s desire begins and not by what this desire, so to speak, consists in.

As an illustration I would refer to the work that offers a number of considerations on the question of what Freud’s desire was. This is Serge Cottet’s book Freud and the Desire of the Psychoanalyst3. Cottet’s aim is to analyze Freud’s works—primarily those that contain clinical cases—and to conclude what Freud’s desire was on the basis of this analysis. Thus, in analyzing the reasons why at a certain point Freud abandoned a number of techniques that he had previously used in the course of treatment or why he introduced some technique changes, Cottet draws attention to a number of Freud’s statements where he talks about the challenge to learn from the subject something neither the doctor nor the patient himself knew. The conclusion drawn by Cottet is that Freud’s desire was to penetrate the mystery beyond language.

One cannot but notice that Cottet’s interpretation hardly resembles the analytic way of dealing with the subject’s speech. Cottet acts more like a literary critic holding in his hands a piece of fiction text. Cottet’s explanation is no different from those whose main aim is to detect what was meant by the author or the meaning of the character's actions. In Cottet’s study, Freud appears precisely as this sort of character: penetrating some mystery is presented as the meaning of his words and actions.

To justify Serge Cottet, we can only say that this way of reading a text is for most subjects not only primary but the only one available. This is how one learns to read fiction stories at school. But after graduation one rarely encounters a text that would require reading it differently, and even if that is the case one usually does not know how to deal with such a text, complaining that it is unclear what the author meant—that is the only thing the subject can do.

Yet, being a psychoanalyst, Cottet could have known that this way of questioning is not very psychoanalytic, that this kind of conclusion is not at the level the psychoanalytic judgment should be at.

However, what Cottet refuses here is not simply the level of the psychoanalytic discourse. In fact, he refuses to present desire and himself as a desiring subject. The latter would require not reckoning with the meaning of Freud’s words and actions but a different way of dealing with Freud’s text. The one that is available to Lacan, for example. Lacan was never interested in what Freud meant to say on the work of wit, for example. The conclusions Freud reaches at the end of his book, presented by him as what crowns his entire work, does not attract Lacan’s attention. Instead of reading Freud chapter by chapter and trying to understand the so-called author’s intent, he fragments Freud’s text incorporating some of its sequences into his own already developed conceptual apparatus. In this way, he takes the “famillionaire” story and inscribes it into his conception of the signifiers. In doing so, Lacan is not interested in what Freud himself aims at, or the intent of Freud’s work; Lacan does not care about the mechanism of humoristic pleasure that Freud talks about at the very end of his work and whose articulation seems to be the main purpose of writing the text. Lacan constructs his own theory of the work of wit out of his own desire.

But to do so means not to rely on the legitimate ways of reading but on one’s own desire on whose basis the theory is constructed.

So, Freud’s desire articulated in terms of its substance can equally be questioned, which means that it is questioned from the very beginning, and it is the lacuna within Freud’s desire that questions it. This is why I said that the lacuna within Freud’s desire takes precedence over what this desire consists in.

It is this lacuna that forces the analysts to shun excessive self-presentation. They are unable to forget the way Freud himself dealt with his own desire disturbing the analysts’ attempts to seek recognition on the psychoanalytic territory. This is why the analysts, at least most of them, prefer to keep a low profile, not to be zealous in inventing their own concepts, not to talk too much about their own cases in public (this is not only and not even so much because of the ethics involved), and not to talk too much about their own analysis in general.

However, at the same time, they launch into drawing family trees that would make it clear who of the pioneers was analyzed by whom in order to check whether in the history of psychoanalysis everything was right with the inheritance of the analytic desire.

The very same thing makes it necessary to constantly revise the analytic knowledge in search of what has been missed. However, what has been missed is not missed but omitted—an omission, an irreducible lacuna of irreducible desire.


This paper was delivered on may 27, 2013 at the Symposium on Alexander Smulansky’s book Paternal Metaphor and Desire of the Analyst.