The Freudian thing
The Freudian thing (1955) 'The Freudian thing' was a commemorative oration delivered at the Viennese neuro-psychiatric clinic in 1955, and in it Lacan repeatedly taunts his clinical audience with a contrast between Freud's intellectual heroism and the alleged pusillanimity of most clinicians. The lecture could have been entitled: the unconscious, language and the tasks of the analyst. Many of the themes discussed so far in the book are to be found in this lecture. Lacan begins by referring to Freud's revolution in knowledge: the discovery t!hat the centre of the human being was no longer at the place assigned to it by the humanist tradition. He states that the meaning of a return to Freud is a return to the meaning of Freud. Truth, he says, belongs to the unconscious - it is found in dreams, jokes, nonsense, word play. In what could the unconscious be better recognised, in fact, than in the defences that are set up in the subject against it? The most innocent intention is disconcerted at being unable to conceal the fact that one's unsuccessful acts are the most successful and that one's failure fulfils one's most secret wish. Lacan then links the topic of the unconscious with language. It is language that distinguishes human society from animal society; language is constituted by laws. If you want to know more, he says, read Saussure, the founder of modern linguistics. Lacan launches an attack dn ego-psychology and its connections with 'the American way of life'. He is antagonistic to ego-psychology with its reference to 'the healthy part of the subject's ego', its stress on 'adaptation to reality', and its belief that the purpose of analysis is achieved through 'identification with the analyst's ego'. In his view it is the ego-psychologists who support the translation of Freud's phrase' Wo Es war, soli Ich werden' as 'Where the id was, there the ego shall be.' Lacan argues that this is false, a mistranslation. He believes that there is a fundamental distinction between the true subject of the unconscious and the ego as constituted in its nucleus by a series of alienating identifications. The 88 Jacques Laean correct translation of the German emphasises not the ego but the unconscious: 'Where the subject was, there ought I to become.' Or, alternatively, 'There where it was, it is my duty that I should come into being.' The third theme of the lecture is the task of the analyst. It is important, Lacan says, that the analyst should know why s/he intervenes, at what moment the opportunity presents itself and how to seize it. For this to occur the analyst must fully understand the difference between the Other to which his or her speech must be addressed, and that second other who is the individual he sees before him or her. The Other (capital 0) is the locus in which is constituted the I who speaks to him/her who hears .. " Lacan believes that in the analytical situation there are not only two subjects present but two subjects each provided with.two objects, the ego and the other (autre), the unconscious. This then is a game for four players. It is in this paper that Lacan discusses two important phenomena in psychoanalysis - the return of the repressed and transference - in the context of recognition. Both these phenomena are forms of repetition, types of return. We know, for example, that the victims of traumas return to the traumatic scene in their dreams, and the infant repeats the painful scene of its mother's departure. Lacan believes that a desire must insistently repeat itself until it be recognised. Repetition is the effect not so much of the frustration of a desire but of the lack of recognition of a desire. Indeed, Lacan sees the psychoanalytic situation as a context conducive to the subject's recognition of his or her desires. But how do subjects come to recognise their desires? What the analyst must do is to reply to what s/he hears. That reply sends back to the subject in inverted form what s/he was saying that s/he could never hear if s/he did not hear it returning from the analyst. Thus is accomplished the recognition that is the goal of analysis, the recognition by the subject. The subject must come to recognise his or her own drives, which a~ insisting, unbeknownst to him or her, in his or her discourse and actions. That recognition is reached through the mediation of the analyst. The analyst returns to the subject what the subject was saying so that the subject can recognise it and stop saying it. Although the analyst is the one who is 'supposed to know' the truth, s/he really has to give up the power associated with his or
Laean's Ecrits: A review 89 her position in order to encourage the encounter with the Other. The analyst, according to Lacan, should not identify with the Other, but only encourage the analysand to encounter his or her own Other. Lacan mentions the fact that Freud regarded the study of literature, art, languages and institutions as necessary to an understanding of (the text of) our experience. In Lacan's view there should be an initiation into the methods of the linguist, the historian and the mathematician. Psychoanalysis can be sustained only by constant communication with other disciplines that form the 'sciences of inter-subjectivity' or the 'conjectural sciences'. In the concluding section of 'The Freudian thing' there is a moving reference to the Actaeon myth: 'Actaeon, too guilty to hunt the goddess, the prey in which is caught, a huntsman, the shadow that you become, let the pack pass by without hastening your step, Dian~ will recognise the hounds for what they are ... ' (Eerits, p. 145). Actaeon was guilty of having surprised the chaste goddess Diana in her bath. Taken aback, the goddess transformed him into a stag, and then his own dogs hunted and devoured him. This Ovidian parable can be interpreted in many ways. We know that Lacan stressed the insistent power of repression and that the discovery of the unconscious isitself subject to repression. Freud's discovery was a terrifying one, even to Freud himself. We also know that Freud's thoughts have become codified; egopsychologists and others have domesticated and/or repressed the unconscious. Is Freud a new Actaeon turned upon and savaged by his own thoughts for having unveiled the goddess of the unconscious? Or is, perhaps, Actaeon Lacan himself?