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Interpretation

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French: interprétation
Role of the Analyst

The role of the analyst in the treatment is twofold.

First and foremost, he must listen to the analysand, but he must also intervene by speaking to the analysand.

Function of Interpretation

Although the analyst's speech is characterized by many different kinds of speech act -- asking questions, giving instructions, etc. -- it is the offering of interpretations which plays the most crucial and distinctive role in the treatment.

Broadly speaking, the analyst can be said to offer an interpretation when he says something that subverts the analysand's conscious "everyday" way of looking at something.

Sigmund Freud

Freud first began offering interpretations to his patients in order to help them remember an idea that had been repressed from memory.

These interpretations were educated guesses about what the patients had omitted from their account of the events which led up to the formation of their symptoms.

Example

For example, in one of the earliest interpretations, Freud told one patient that she had not revealed all her motives for the intense affection she showed towards her employer's children, and went on to say; "I believe that really you are in love with your employer, the Director, though perhaps without being aware of it yourself."[1]

Purpose of Interpretation

The purpose of the interpretation was to help the patient become conscious of unconscious thoughts.

Psychoanalytic Method of Interpretation

The model of interpretation was set down by Freud in The Interpretation of Dreams.[2]

Though only concerned explicitly with dreams, Freud's comments on interpretation in this work apply equally to all the other formations of the unconscious -- parapraxes, jokes, symptoms, etc.

"Decoding" Method of Interpretation

In the second chapter of this work the psychoanalytic method of interpretation is distinguished from the "decoding" method of interpretation by the use of the method of free association: a psychoanalytic interpretation does not consist in attributing a meaning to a dream by referring to a pre-existing system of equivalences but by referring to the associations of the dreamer himself.

It follows that the same image will mean very different things if dreamed by different people.

Sigmund Freud

Even when Freud later came to recognize the existence of "symbolism" in dreams (i.e. the fact that there are some images which have fixed universal meanings in addition to their unique meaning for the individual dreamer), he always maintained thaat interpretation should focus primarily on the particular meaning and warned against "overestimating the importance of symbols in dream interpretation."[3]

Interpretation in Analysis

Early on in the history of the psychoanalytic movement, interpretation rapidly came to be the most important tool of the analyst, his primary means for achieving therapeutic effects in the patient.

Interpretation of Unconscious Meaning of the Symptom

Since symptoms were held to be the expression of a repressed idea, the interpretation was seen to cure the symptom by helping the patient become conscious of the idea.

Declining Effect of Interpretation

However, after the initial period in which the offering of interpretations seemed to achieve remarkable effects, in the decade 1910-20 analysts began to notice that their interpretations were becoming less effective.

In particular, the symptom would persist even after the analyst had offered exhaustive interpretations of it.

Possible Explanation
Resistance to Becoming Conscious

In order to explain this, analysts turned to the concept of resistance, arguing that it is not sufficient simply to offer an interpretation of the unconscious meaning of the symptom but that it is also necessary to get rid of the patient's resistance to becoming fully conscious of this meaning.

Jacques Lacan

Lacan, however, proposes a different explanation.

He argues that the decreasing efficacy of interpretations after 1920 was due to a "closure" of the unconscious which the analysts themselves had provoked.[4]

Among other things, Lacan blames the increasing tendency of the first generation of analysts to base their interpretations more on symbolism (despite Freud's warnings to the contrary), thereby returning to the pre-psychoanalytic "decoding" method of interpretation.

Not only did this reduce interpretations to set formulas, but the patients soon came to be able to predict exactly what the analyst would say about any particular symptom or association they produced (which, as Lacan wryly comments "is surely the most annoying trick which can be played on a fortune-teller"[5]).

Interpretations thus lacked both relevance and shock-value.

Popularity of Psychoanalytic Theory

Other analysts before Lacan had recognized the problems caused by the fact that patients were increasingly knowledgable of psychoanalytic theory.

However, the solution which they proposed for this problem was that "too much knowledge on the part of the patient should be replaced by more knowledge on the part of the analyst."[6]

In other words, they urged the analyst to elaborate even more complex theories in order to stay one step ahead of the patient.

Jacques Lacan

Lacan, however, proposes a different solution.

What is needed, he argues, is not interpretations of every-increasing complexity, but a different way of approaching interpretation altogether.

Hence Lacan calls for a "renewed technique of interpretation,"[7] one that challenges the basic assumptions underlying the classical psychoanalytic model of interpretation.

Classical Psychoanalytic Model of Interpretation

Classical interpretations generally took the form of attributing to a dream, a symptom, a parapraxis, or an association, a meaning not given to it by the patient.

For example the interpretation may be of the form "What you really mean by this symptom is that you desire x."

Interpretation Unmasks Hidden Unconscious Meaning

The fundamental assumption was that the interpretation unmasks a hidden meaning, the truth of which could be confirmed by the patient producing more associations.

It is this assumption that Lacan challenges, arguing that analytic interpretations should no longer aim at discovering a hidden meaning, but rather at disrupting meaning.

Interpretation as Disruption of Meaning
"Interpretation is directed not so much at 'making sense' as towards reducing the signifiers to their 'non-sense' in order thereby to find the determinants of all the subject's conduct."[8]

Interpretation thus inverts the relationship between signifier and signified: instead of the normal production of meaning (signifier produces signified), interpretation works at the level of s to generate S: interpretation causes "irreducible signifiers" to arise, which are "non-sensical."[9]

Hence it is not a question, for Lacan, of fitting the analysand's discourse into a preconceived interpretive matrix or theory (as in the "decoding" method), but of disrupting all such theories.

Analysand's Message Addressed to Himself

Far from offering the analysand a new message, the interpretation should serve merely to enable the analysand to hear the message he is unconsciously addressing to himself.

The analysand's speech always has other meanings apart from that which he consicously intends to convey.

The analyst plays on the ambiguity of the analysand's speech, bringing out its multiple meanings.

Often the most effective way for the interpretation to achieve this is for it too to be ambiguous.

By interpreting in this way, the analyst sends the analysand's message back to the analysand in its true, inverted form.

Tactic of Interpretation

An interpretation is therefore not offered to gain the analysand's assent, but is simply a tactical device aimed at enabling the analysand to continue speaking when the flow of associations has become locked.

Interpretation and Reality

The value of an interpretation does not lie in its correspondence with reality, but simply in its power to produce certain effects; an interpretation may therefore be inexact, in the sense of not corresponding to "the facts," but nevertheless true, in the sense of having powerful symbolic effects.[10]

Role of the Analyst
Analysand's Speech as Text

Lacan argues that in order to interpret in this way, the analyst must take the analysand's speech absolutely literally (à la lettre).

That is, the task of the analyst is not to achieve some imaginary intuitive grasp of the analysand's "hidden message," but simply to read the analysand's discourse as if it were text, attending to the formal features of this discourse, the signifiers that repeat themselves.[11]

Understanding

Hence Lacan's frequent warnings of the dangers of "understanding."

"The less you understand, the better you listen."[12]

Understanding (comprendre) has negative connotations for Lacan, implying a kind of listening that seeks only to fit the other's speech] into a preformed theory.[13]

In order to do avoid this, the analyst, must "forget what he knows" when listening[14] and when offering interpretations must do so "exactly as if we were completely ignorant of theory."[15]

See Also

References

  1. Freud, Sigmund. "The Neuro-Psychoses of Defence", 1895d. SE III, 43. p. 117
  2. Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams, 1900a. SE V.
  3. Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams, 1900a. SE V., pp. 359-60.
  4. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book II. The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1954-55. Trans. Sylvana Tomaselli. New York: Nortion; Cambridge: Cambridge Unviersity Press, 1988. p.10-11; Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre VIII. Le transfert, 1960-61. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p.390
  5. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p.462
  6. Ferenczi, Sándor and Rank, Otto. "The Development of Psychoanalysis," trans. Caroline Newton, J. Nerv. Ment. Dis., Monograph, no. 40. 1925. p.61
  7. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p.82.
  8. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book XI. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 1964. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1977. p.212
  9. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book XI. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 1964. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1977. p. 250
  10. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 237
  11. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book II. The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1954-55. Trans. Sylvana Tomaselli. New York: Nortion; Cambridge: Cambridge Unviersity Press, 1988. p. 153
  12. Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book II. The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1954-55. Trans. Sylvana Tomaselli. New York: Nortion; Cambridge: Cambridge Unviersity Press, 1988. p. 141
  13. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock Publications, 1977. p. 270; Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar. Book II. The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, 1954-55. Trans. Sylvana Tomaselli. New York: Nortion; Cambridge: Cambridge Unviersity Press, 1988. p. 130; Lacan, Jacques. Le Séminaire. Livre VIII. Le transfert, 1960-61. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Seuil, 1991. p. 229-30
  14. Lacan, Jacques. Écrits. Paris: Seuil, 1966. p.349
  15. Lacan, Jacques. "The Neurotic's Individual Myth," 1953b, trans. Martha Evans, in L. Spurling (ed.), Sigmund Freud: Critical Assessments,, vol. II, The Theory and Practice of Psychoanalysis, London and New York: Routledge, 1989, p. 227.