Ask An Analyst
I’ve been charged with providing Lacan.org with some record of the many years this ask-an-analyst service has been progressing.
The most common question I receive starts with an expression of interest in Lacanian theory, often from having read Zizek, and in the desire to become a psychoanalyst, with a request for some direction regarding how to get going.
My response is: (1) undertake psychoanalysis, and (2) read certain texts. I recommend a paper of mine published at Lacan.com called ‘the technique of Lacanian psychoanalysis’ that speaks to the position of personal psychoanalysis in the training of analysts. But, I’ve never explained why I recommend particular texts. So, I will now.
(I recommend: Lacan’s first seminars, Freud’s Dream Interpretation, Three theories of sexuality, and Jokes and their relation to the unconscious.)
Why should someone start with Freud and Lacan, given that it won’t be possible to completely understand either of them?
Freud discovered something, which, if ‘taken in,’ may de-center a human subject from some position of ‘self-knowledge,’ resulting in something new and surprising (the Freudian experience). As Freud made clinical discoveries he tried to find a language and logic to express them. Freud called some of his discoveries, (1) the unconscious – meaning a logic that resides in us that we know nothing about but that ‘orders’ our desires, (2) infantile sexuality and drives, and (3) the ego.
Freud’s challenge was to explain how the unconscious works and how the human functions psychically, to those who probably don’t have any access to their own unconscious desire. Freud mainly writes about his clinical experience, and he has to invent a language and create a logic to refer to and to ‘name’ his experience. Thus, he takes his experience and creates theory to explain how human things happen, and he continuously tests his theory, within his clinical practice, treating psychically suffering patients (his analysands). In reading Freud you get access to the progression of his thinking, because Freud was actually trying to ‘reach’ you. You may have to suspend disbelief, but when you read The Interpretation of Dreams, you read his discovery of unconscious meaning in dreams, with hundreds of examples.
But, it’s a big knot that holds us psychically together, by way of signifiers (utterance) to which we unconsciously provide meaning (signification). So, it’s not easy to explain; it’s not a simple diagram, from here to there, but complex and contradictory ways the subject is ‘created’ through speech and grammar, out of difference and lack.
Lacan studied Freud and maintained a clinical practice for many years before he started teaching, and he developed some of his own terms for describing the Freudian experience. Unlike Freud he never tried to ‘reach’ those who had not already had this experience. But like Freud he himself had had the experience, and his life work was to translate it into a theory that ‘explains’ the human predicament, his famous “I speak the truth” of Television.
Therefore, throughout Lacan, thanks to Freud, the experience is complete, already there; his struggle at the time he began his seminars wasn’t to work it out, but to teach it to those who’d also experienced it, but didn’t know what they’d experienced. While his first seminars deal with basic elements of the human position, for example to power and helplessness, to identification and lack, to speech and desire, and trace what is ‘normative’ in human development, he’s not teaching the ‘uninitiated.’ Indeed his effort is to avoid the trap of premature ‘understanding,’ which is also the trap of neurosis.
Some of my interlocutors probably wonder why I recommend they do so much reading, a long and at times frustrating undertaking. When I can answer a specific question specifically, I will, but an answer is always incomplete, and if an answer leads someone to premature understanding, then it is certainly no help. The study of psychoanalysis is a giant undertaking, and my own experience is that those who read Freud, and read Lacan, and ‘get hooked’ on questions without knowing why, get a taste of the experience.
So, I suggest, start with Freud, start with Lacan, and see where that takes you. And, if you begin to question your own desire, start psychoanalysis.
Questions about Lacan? About Lacanian theory and practice? About psychoanalysis itself?
Send your questions via the email link below, and Anna Shane, Ph.D., past president of the San Francisco Society for Lacanian Studies, founding member and analyst of the Lacanian School, will offer an answer.