.........Anna Shane

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Summary:  A response to new books on Lacanian technique, the author presents the basis of technique as being the desire of the analyst. 

Key Words:  technique, desire of the analyst, return of the repressed


As many have discovered, learning Lacanian theory isn't necessarily a straightforward or even an obviously logical undertaking.  It may seem easier, if one has trustworthy teachers, but for English speakers teachers aren't always convenient.  Because of this dearth, many students of Lacanian psychoanalysis must rely mainly on texts, perhaps supplemented by attending occasional seminars.  But while Lacan himself is famously abstruse, books on Lacan may impose an even greater challenge for students, who must determine if the text they are studying is actually Lacanian, or may be more a reflection of the writers own views, couched in Lacanian terms. So, how can anyone be confident that what is 'studied' is actually Lacanian?

Since the most frequent question students pose about Lacan has to do with the practice of psychoanalysis, books on Lacanian technique require the most careful consideration.  Student questions include: How does one prepare to be a Lacanian psychoanalyst; how does one learn what to do and what to listen for, what is it that takes place specifically in Lacanian psychoanalysis and no where else, and how is it different from, say, Jungian analysis, or so-called post-Freudian analysis?  Lacan devoted his second seminar (Seminar II) to technique, but he didn't try to make this teaching accessible to curious lay-people, or in other words to non-analysts.  There have been several recent general texts that speak to these questions, but while there doubtless are benefits and drawbacks to each, a new student isn't in a position to judge these 'explanations' of Lacan.

Years ago, when I was a graduate student in psychology, there was a popular film used in training seminars.  In it there were three famous therapists: Albert Ellis, Fritz Perls and Carl Rogers.  Each interviewed the same woman, who had volunteered to act as the patient for this film.  Each 'demonstrated' his specific technique:  Ellis his rational emotive therapy, Rogers his active listening, and Perls his gestalt technique.  All three therapists already had a following of students, who trained to do therapy like each one did it.  The volunteer 'patient,' a slim, dark-haired woman perhaps in her twenties, presented each with the same 'presenting problem,' which was that she was promiscuous, and that it was a problem for her.

This kind of exercise clearly gives the impression that psychotherapy is a technique that can be learned, through studying theory, through individual training and through demonstration.  Lacan didn't think such a thing was possible for psychoanalysis.  For Lacan the only possible 'training,' comes from an interrogation of one's own unconscious, by way of undergoing personal analysis.  In one's own personal analysis one may come to see the workings of the unconscious, from the 'inside,' so to speak.  Being surprised by one's own 'blind spots' and narcissistic pretensions, the future analyst may come to see how she has been formed through signifiers, by way of her apprehension of the Other's desire.  This kind of undertaking may take years. 

In the United States there are already working psychotherapists who appreciate Lacan's theories, and wish to incorporate Lacanian theory into their preexisting treatment methods.  So this idea of Lacanian training as being based solely on desire, revealed through one's personal analysis, is perhaps unwelcome.  Indeed, it may be that after analysis a former analysand no longer wishes to take up analysis as a profession, and may wish to do something else.  One couldn't imagine many people going through the time and expense of law school, for example, if they had to wait for the end to discover whether or not they wished to practice law, meaning that their training amounted to a kind of questioning of what they wanted to do with their lives.  Generally one picks a profession first, and then trains for it; one doesn't generally train first and then choose.  

But before going through analysis it may be possible to have an idea about what an analyst 'is,' and what psychoanalysis 'is.'

The practice of Lacanian analysis is, of course, based on Freud's discoveries, and in particular on Lacan's description of the subject, as inhabited by or as 'taken-in' by language, which creates a founding lack in each subject, since there is no word that can say what you are.   The symptom, then, is what has been inserted into lack.  Lacan's three forms of lack speak to the ways in which any subject may function in a real world, and avoid facing lack or being terrified by it: lack in the form of privation, frustration, and castration.  

An analyst is supposed to function with her lack as castration, which is the kind of lack that must simply be acknowledged and accepted.   'Desire of the analyst' refers to the analyst functioning from lack as castration, rather than from lack as frustration (where she would be living in a state of rivalry), desire and lack being the same thing. 

Analysands function primarily with lack as frustration, mistakenly believing that there is a real object somewhere that will cancel their lack, an object that has been withheld from them, improperly given to someone else, or has been denied them by fate.  Avoiding the pain that goes with frustration comes through the mechanization of identification, through someone or something the subject supposes isn't lacking.  The subject either identifies with this object (called the phallus, or - j, meaning it's not anywhere), an identification that preserves narcissism, or she identifies with the object the Other desires (lacks), in order to enjoy the job of completing the Other with (a part of) her own self, which is another way of preserving narcissism.   Symptoms, of course, aren't always perceived as problems.  One can see a symptom as being anywhere from successful (provides some satisfaction) to unsuccessful (provides no satisfaction).  

The point of analysis is to lead the subject in such a way that she may come to see how her identifications were formed around her lack, not from 'facts' concerning her 'true, lost' meaning or 'real' worth.  Since the symptom is a response to lack caused by language, and since repression strikes signifiers, the job of the analyst is to open up those places in the patient's discourse where lack shows through.  In this way it's a surgery by way language on signifiers, and not a treatment that takes into account meanings (significations) or explanations. 

The analyst performs her function by receiving and acknowledging moments in a psychoanalytic session where lack reveals, in such a way that the analysand may also receive it, and may acknowledge that 'something' was revealed.  The analyst recognizing these moments when they occur is something akin to 'getting the joke.'  An interpretation happens when an analyst acknowledges that a moment revealed lack, without pretending to 'explain' to the patient what it means.  It is the job of the analysand only to give meaning (or not) to these moments that reveal lack within a psychoanalytic session.  

The analysand is free to refuse the moment, make up some explanation to cover her exposed lack (an explanation that would simply be another pointer to her truth), or 'get the joke' herself, and come to see how a 'meaning' was formed as response to lack.

Although this sounds simple and straightforward, it isn't.  For one thing analysand's are reluctant to question identifications.  After all, identifications are narcissistic, and look silly when they come to light.  Once transference has taken place, the analysand may be willing to try to do what her analyst asks of her. But she'll also worry, so she'll proceed only to the extent that she can without triggering anxiety.  She will generally reveal only in the code of the return of the repressed, which the analyst either can hear, or can't.

An analyst can't plan an interpretation ahead of time, any more than an analyst can 'know' where a session is heading.  This means that one can't learn the practice of analysis from a book or from a teacher, however analyzed or brilliant any teacher may be.  If an analyst in training still lives with her own lack as frustration, she won't be able hear the return of the repressed in her patient's discourse.   This is why one must be analyzed if one thinks one may wish someday to be an analyst, and why personal analysis is the basic training tool for future analysts. 

The role of supervision (also called 'control analysis') isn't to 'teach' analytic technique, it's based on the same technique as analysis proper.  In speaking about an analysand to her supervisor, an analyst in training will (a) be led to speak about those places where she herself experiences lack as frustration (reveal her repression that is keeping her from hearing her analysand), or (b) be lead to speak about lacking moments from her analysand's discourse.  In the first instance the analyst in training may come to see shortcomings of her own analysis.  In the second the analyst may learn through recognizing moments with her supervisor, a kind of transmission of technique.

In neither case do Lacanian supervisors ever tell analysts in training what to do or say in analysis.  Just as all meaning must come from the analysand, all interpretations must be made 'in the moment,' 'prepared' only by the analyst's desire. The point of interpretation (speech or silence) is to point to lack (desire) revealed in an analysand's discourse.

I'll now return to the case of the three theorists I described earlier.  Recall that a woman presents herself to three male therapists, to be filmed.  She tells each man that she has the problem of giving herself to too many men.  One may see that she is demonstrating her presenting problem with each man in his turn, a repetition that, as such, points to some truth.   What that truth is we don't know, we only know there is something trying to be said, and we may recognize it, like getting a joke.  But none of these therapists heard her joke, or at least not in a way that might have given her a glimpse into it herself.  One may fairly wonder whether any of them 'got the joke,' as already each was seemingly taken in by this patient.  Thus, one may suggest that they heard the joke (and forgot or ignored it, for their own reasons), couldn't hear the joke (for their own reasons), or heard it but (did not recognize its truth value). 

Another example is included in Seminars by Moustafa Safouan where the author describes a patient whose symptom was repetitive failure; whatever she attempted was destined to fail, and she was miserable because she couldn't reach any of her goals.  Her father was a banker, in French cheque, and in French failure is also called cheque.  When this joke was acknowledged (somehow returned to her) by her analyst, she came to see how she was giving her check as an answer to his check, in a fight to the death with her father, but with no winners or losers, the fantasy behind her symptom making her exactly as powerful (and as immortal) as he. She characterized this as a 'fight between Titans.' So her narcissistic identification was, as is usually the case, silly.  Once she'd received her own message, in the form of a flash of recognition (getting her own joke), her symptom of repetitive failure dropped.

This brings the question of how analysis ends.  It is clear from the above two examples that the point of analysis isn't simply a better adjustment in the world, or a shoring up of one's own ego or one's own comforting sense of oneself (identifications), but goes somewhere else, to the area of truth: the truth of unconscious desire.  Going toward truth (or not) is a question of individual desire: either you want to or you don't.  Thus it depends on the curiosity of the analysand about her truth.  But it also depends on the desire of the analyst, not as some imaginary wish that any one patient will come to realize her truth, but simply as a desire that is situated at the level of castration rather than frustration, as a kind of assumed lack that doesn't prevent the analyst from seeing into repressions in order to undo them.   

A failed analysis would then be one where the analysand left analysis without having discovered anything about her unconscious desire or her narcissistic identifications.  Sometimes a person may leave analysis right before such recognition, in order to keep on avoiding unwelcome truth.  Sometimes someone may leave analysis because she isn't being 'heard' by her analyst, such as could have happened in the case of the three therapists, each of whom appears 'deaf' to the patient's message.   And sometimes a person leaves analysis because she may finally be able to tolerate and perhaps even appreciate the so-called 'bad news of castration' without requiring anyone (or anything) to hold an imaginary place of the Other for her.  This third kind of ending may create a desire to repeat the process with someone else, or in other words, the desire to become an analyst.

But why then would anyone study Lacanian theory and technique before they'd gone through an analysis, and come out at the end?  Like anything else, one picks what one studies for one's own reasons, whatever they may be.  There are many who enjoy Lacan's teachings, and find his concepts useful in thinking through questions of interest. Still, some texts may be misleading, if one is led to think that Lacanian analysis is a technique that can be learned, rather than a technique that can only be transmitted.  


Anna Shane is a practicing psychoanalysis in Berkeley, California. She is an editor for the Journal of European Psychoanalysis, and Re-Turn: A Journal of Lacanian Psychoanalysis. She edits The Other, the journal of the San Francisco Society for Lacanian Studies. She recently edited Four Lessons of Psychoanalysis, by Moustafa Safouan. 


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