1) Representing and the unrepresentable
This is an important session as in a way it sets up the agenda for the 3 year programme which will deal in different ways with the issues outlined below.
It has been accepted that the unsayable and trauma of various kinds are difficult to represent and ‘symbolise’, both in the clinic and outside. Lacan, in his emphasis on the Real escaping representation, is one of the key thinkers who emphasized the difficulty. Despite our tendency omnipotently to want to acquire knowledge of all kinds, some experiences simply escape our attempts to represent and know them. Instead these unconscious memories (or traces of them) can make themselves known via the symptom, sometimes in the form of a physical affliction, via parapraxes, acts of violence; they materialise in the form of dreams, unexplained sensations, but also via artistic processes, creativity, works of arts or religious rituals.
Lacan says “Beware of Understanding” (Lacan 1956); and Bion “The only point of importance in any (psychoanalytic) session is the unknown” (Bion, 1967). Both psychoanalytic theorists speak of emotional experiences beyond representation: Bion defines the concept of O and Lacan speaks of the impossibility in registering the Real.
What are the ways of representing the un-representable? For example, it has been suggested that fiction can be better at representing pain, suffering and trauma (Caruth 1999, Derrida 2000) than a factual account. Jacqueline Rose suggested that the poems of Sylvia Plath (1993) might be seen as an important representation of pain and conflict, doubting the role psychoanalysis in the latter’s treatment. For there are also other things which have had a tough time in terms of representation; for example, the psychoanalytic encounter itself , which can also be seen as one that escapes representation.
We will seek proposals from a wide range of disciplines, from practitioners and theorists alike . It is particularly art, including film, performance, and visual arts that historically has succeeded to some extent to represent the unrepresentable. This session therefore seeks to be as broad as possible, inviting those from different disciplines to engage with the psychoanalytical thinking and the unconscious in attempting to analyse their practice, and theorise different ways in which to get closer the ‘unrepresentable’.
2) The body
This symposium follows directly from the previous one: as trauma is often ‘written on the body’. It cannot be spoken about easily but perhaps it can be re-created in different ways. Psychoanalysis has always been interested in the relationship between the mind and the body. Freud’s development of psychoanalytic theory and treatment originated from his consideration of the great range of embodied signs constituting the hysterical neuroses. Symptoms and signs, Freud noted in 1895, ‘join in the conversation’ by taking bodily form. It is often the role of a clinician to help the patient/analysand to fin a way to the ‘talking cure’.
Lacan always talked about the intersubjective relationship between the analyst and the analysand, through language. However, in his later work, particularly in Seminar XX and XXIII, he turns his attention to the body and its effects in the Symbolic.
Embodiment, fantasy about the body and its representations and meanings, enactment, sexuality, clinical phenomena such as self-mutilation and psychotic fragmentation can be addressed in an attempt to extend our understanding of the psychoanalytic traditions that have evolved in relation to Freud’s discoveries.
Joyce McDougall, author of ‘Theatres of the Body’ and an expert on psychosomatic conditions speaks of the emotional and physical toll it takes to be an analyst. The analyst is a ‘prisoner of her chair’, she observed. She described ways in which the therapist’s body becomes integrated into the analytic work – for instance the traumatic impact, yet opportunity, if the analyst becomes pregnant.
Chasseguet Smirgel’s discussion of the 20th Century phenomenon where the destruction of one’s body to destroy others, both seen on a political level with suicidal bombers as well as an individual psychopathological level in cases of eating disorders, is a particular potent one in our times.
What is the body in psychoanalysis? What is affect? What do people mean when they talk about bodily experiences in film reception? What is affect in art?
The symposium as always welcomes practitioners and theorists from all disciplines, including the clinic but also the arts, film, fine art and the theatre..
3) Psychoanalysis and science
The connection between psychoanalysis and social sciences is now well established, with the founding of Psychosocial Studies departments, for example, across the UK and prominent scholars such as Stephen Frosh writing about the importance of understanding social phenomena from a psychoanalytic perspective. But what of its connection with natural science? Even though Freud never saw psychoanalysis as a natural science, he never gave up the idea that his theories could or would constitute a science. Lacan, on the one hand, attempted to find a way of describing psychoanalytical encounters through mathematical equations but, on the other, was deeply sceptical of “knowledge”.
This has not prevented a large group of scholars and clinicians, such as Mark Solms and Aikaterini Fotopoulou, from bringing together psychoanalysis and neuroscience in order to work towards the development of a new platform under the name of “neuropsychoanalysis”. Can this still indeed be considered psychoanalysis? Is it productive to forge links between psychoanalysis and neuroscience? Is psychoanalysis still relevant in this context? Or what could psychoanalysis itself tell us about the philosophy of science? We are interested in how these questions play out not only between the couch and the lab, but also in wider intellectual contexts, from the philosophical investigations of Catherine Malabou and Adrian Johnston to the debate between cognitive and psychoanalytic approaches in Film Studies. And we also ask: how do these ideas find cultural expression or influence works of art, film, television, or literature?
In late 1880s Freud wrote a series of papers about the effects of cocaine, suggesting the theory that the addictive seeks temporary alleviation of depression originating from conflict in the instinctual forces. In a letter to Flies, a few years later he suggested that masturbation is the primal addiction for which all other addictions are substitutes. Freud of course came to abandon his ideas of cocaine as well as other notions regarding addictions. Most theorists since Freud have kept the emphasis on drives. RD Chessick describes the addictive personality as one that “has regressed to a primitive auto-erotic apparatus that aims only to restore infantile omnipotence”. Others, such as Edward Glover, criticized the classical theory and argued addiction as an imbalance of the ego, which is caught between regressing towards psychosis and progressing towards mastering anxiety. E Lurssen, on the other hand, developed Thomas Szasz’s idea, who saw addiction as a disorder resulting from a dysfunctioning superego. He saw the addictive as an individual who creates a chemical mythology to protest against the destabilized relationship with the parents.
According to Lacan the addictive personality bypasses the Other for a direct access to jouissance. However, even though the addicted Subject rejects the Other, s/he is forever depended on an Other with whom connection is believed impossible. At the same time that s/he acts alone, s/he is constantly seeking out the collective experience, where both jouissance and the unbearable Real can be shared. (It is no wonder, then, that Therapeutic Communities are the ones with best results in treating addiction.) And recent developments, for example, in neuropsychoanalysis have sought to understand the relation between habit, reward and dopamine in terms of jouissance, as exemplified by the work of Ariane Bazan, or anxiety in Brian Johnson’s work.
In the age of neoliberalism and consumerism, we are seeing a renewed rise in certain forms of addiction: eating (anorexia, bulimia); while others are appearing as new: such as shopping, video games, excessive Internet use, etc. Although these kinds of addiction can be seen as a surrender to the drives, this specific consumerism does not necessarily exclude the importance of language. So far as this consumerism functions like a superego – as an imperative to enjoy, sustained and promoted by the market – the Subject seems to consume itself under the pressure of our time’s addictions.
As well as a clinical phenomenon, addiction is also a constant point of focus in culture and media, from Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (an autobiography of laudanum addiction, whose drug-induced visions could make an interesting comparison piece with Freud’s Traumdeutung, for example), and Irvine Welsh and Danny Boyle’s versions of Trainspotting, to reality TV programme My Strange Addiction (an exploitative view of a variety of compulsive behaviours, many not conventionally considered “addictions”).
For Freud, the feminine constituted a dark continent, and represented a riddle without precise answers. This understanding concerns men’s relationship to this continent, which seems to exclude the symbolic law. Jung, on the other hand, saw the feminine aspect of the collective unconscious, which he designated the “anima”, and described the Electra Complex as a girl’s equivalent to the boy’s Oedipus Complex. The question of femininity, however, is also a question of identities.
Lacan discussed the issue of sexual difference throughout his work, culminating in his claim in Seminar XX: Encore that Woman doesn’t exist (meaning that it is impossible to theorise woman in the same way that he theorised man.) He also made a claim for a particular, feminine jouissance as well as, perhaps most controversially, describing women as “not all”: complex propositions both, which require very careful consideration. And in post-Lacanian psychoanalysis, it is the work of Colette Soler that gives clearest expression to What Lacan Said about Women. It was also Lacan who reclaimed Antigone as the figure of pathos – and the example of “not giving up on one’s desire” – in his Seminar VII, in effect replacing Oedipus with this tragic heroine as a paradigm for psychoanalysis.
Judith Butler, taking up the psychoanalytic distinction between sex and gender, has theorised the latter as performative, rather than biological. Queer theory has thus often tried to make the (female) sex question one of social construction. But can such social constructions change; how might psychoanalysis illuminate these processes?
The position of women in a social context has of course radically changed since Freud, and continues to do so – but the struggle against the patriarchal structures that psychoanalysis could be said to describe continues. What, then, defines women’s social positions, sexual identities and enjoyment today? What can we learn from a discussion between clinicians, practitioners, film and cultural scholars and historians?
6) Sublimation, politics and art
This provocative session deals with the notion of ‘sublimation’, creativity and aggression.
Freud first mentions the idea of sublimation in his article on Leonardo da Vinci (Freud 1959 : 63-139) in which he suggests that the artist sublimated his (seen as pathological) homosexual drives into his creative work. Freud saw sublimation to be related to repression but involving a positive action.
Any creative activity, including filmmaking, theatre, art, writing etc could be interpreted as sublimation of sexual drives and also an arena for a re-working of the unconscious trauma.
A creative activity, which has elements of child’s play in it (Freud 2003 : 23), is replicated to a certain extent in a creative endeavor that sublimates libidinal desire. It offers an alternative to potentially destructive and painful repetition of forgotten trauma or repressed desire. Freud establishes sublimation as a ‘mature defense mechanism’ in which underlying wishes, desires and anxieties are channeled in a socially acceptable way (Bateman & Holmes 1995: 92).
Critchley (2007) in his discussion of Lacan’s notion of sublimation in Seminar VII makes two points: the first one is in relation to one’s desire which is sublimated instead of repressed The second point is to do with beauty, which is inherent in sublimation of desire – at least in Seminar VII:
‘the moral goal of psychoanalysis consists in putting the subject in relation to its unconscious desire. This is why sublimation is so important, for it is the realization of such desire (Critchley 2007: 73).
In Seminar VII the person who sublimates her trauma through an act which is both beautiful and ethical, is Antigone. Lacan in Seminar XI comes back to the idea of sublimation but in rather more prosaic terms. First, he reminds us of Freud’s position: Sublimation in a creative activity which satisfies libidinal drive through that activity. It is a substitute but it gathers the energy of the drive and channels it into something different than sexual activity. It is therefore satisfying for the subject and can be of benefit to culture and society:
Freud tells us repeatedly that sublimation is a satisfaction of the drive, while it is, inhibited as to its aim – it does not attain it. Sublimation is nonetheless satisfaction of the drive, without repression.
In other words – for the moment, I am not fucking, I am talking to you. Well! I can have exactly the same satisfaction as if I were fucking. That’s what it means (Lacan  1998: 165-66).
The session invites papers from all disciplines: clinicians, artists, performers, film and cultural scholars. Why is it that some people can sublimate their traumas and repressed desires into creative activities whereas others cannot?