Freud believed that psychoanalysis was so deeply subversive of people’s most cherished beliefs that only resistance to psychoanalytic ideas would reveal where they were being taken seriously. In 1914 he wrote that ‘the final decisive battle’ for psychoanalysis would be played out ‘where the greatest resistance has been displayed’. By that point it was already clear that it was in France, the country of Mesmer, Bernheim, Charcot, Bergson and Janet, France with its long literary tradition of exquisite sensitivity to the psychological, that resistance to psychoanalysis was greatest. ‘In Paris itself,’ reflected Freud, ‘the conviction seemed to reign ... that everything good in psychoanalysis is a repetition of Janet’s views with insignificant modifications, and that everything else is bad.’ Despite early interest by the Surrealists, there was no French psychoanalytic society until 1926, and for over a quarter of a century it remained small, its members badly stigmatised by their medical peers. Before World War Two, the French had rejected psychoanalysis as a German inspiration; after the war it fared only a little bit better with a new image as an American import.
In the Sixties, all this seemed to change. A growing thirst for things psychoanalytic became a hallmark of French intellectual life. Ready to satisfy it was the brand of psychoanalytic thinking embodied in the work of Jacques Lacan. His Cartesian, poeticised and linguistic psychoanalysis constituted a French reinvention of Freud. Towards the end of the decade, what might have been confined to the hothouse world of the intellectuals was carried beyond by the passions of May 1968. The May events were a festival of speech and desire and psychoanalysts were perceived as the professionals of both. In the context of May, Lacanianism had a special cachet. It was linked to Althusser’s Marxism and Dali’s Surrealism, both excellent credentials for a movement that found itself caught between Marx and street theatre. Anti-establishment and anti-American in his politics within the psychoanalytic movement. Lacan became the symbol of a larger protest. There was even a story – so much a part of the folklore that it made its way across the Atlantic to be reported in the New Yorker – of Lacan putting the student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit in the back of his own Jaguar and successfully smuggling him across the border into Germany. Like all myths, the story speaks its own truth. By the end of the Sixties, what had been a small psychoanalytic movement, theoretically rich but socially isolated, grew into a more deeply and broadly rooted French psychoanalytic culture.
Elisabeth Roudinesco’s Lacan and Co, the second volume of her two-volume history of French psychoanalysis, traces the development of the French psychoanalytic movement from 1925 to 1985, with Lacan as its main protagonist. In French analytic circles, controversy over Lacan’s unorthodox practice and equally unorthodox ideas about psychoanalytic training precipitated three post-war schisms, in 1953, 1963 and 1969. And shortly before his death in 1981, in the heat of yet another controversy, Lacan dissolved his Freudian School, leading to a chain reaction of schisms and the formation of at least a dozen new psychoanalytic organisations. For over a quarter of a century Lacan served as a lightning-rod for controversy not only with psychoanalytic colleagues but in wider intellectual circles. Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Philippe Sollers, Paul Ricoeur and Louis Althusser are all part of Lacan and Co. Like the analysts, each of them had to take a stand for or against Lacan. Lacan would have it no other way. He charged intellectual history with the passion of transferences played out on a public stage. Vain, seductive, vindictive, insecure and charismatic, he never made it easy.
Lacan’s approach to psychoanalysis was characterised from the beginning by a personal appropriation of the Viennese theory which put it in contact with his own intellectual heroes – among them, Spinoza for philosophy, Maurras for his love of language, Clérambault for his observation of patients, Kojeve for the genius of his insight into Hegel, and Dali for the Surrealist experience. Roudinesco notes that the only person who clearly had no place within this family romance was Lacan’s own analyst, the ‘eminently decent Rudolph Loewenstein’. The man who would become famous for his attacks on ego psychology chose as his analyst the man who would become its founder.
Rudolph Loewenstein’s technique represented everything that Lacan would spend the rest of his life opposing. For Loewenstein, analysis was above all a medical technique aimed at curing symptoms: for Lacan, it was, as Roudinesco describes it, an ‘intellectual epic, a discovery of the mind, a theoretical journey’. Loewenstein believed the ego was the analyst’s ally. For Lacan, the ego was an illusion – to ally oneself with it was to consort with the enemy. For Lacan, the only way to approach the ego was ‘with daggers drawn’. Forty years after the event, Lacan referred to his analysis with Loewenstein by saying simply: ‘I analysed myself.’
Roudinesco, a member of Lacan’s Freudian School from 1969 to its dissolution in 1980, is a second-generation Lacanian, the daughter of Jenny Aubry, a psychiatrist who was in analytic training at the Paris Psychoanalytic Society at the time of the schism of 1953 when Lacan’s experiments with analytic technique were already crystallising larger conflicts about the nature of psychoanalytic training. Carefully researched, using archival and interview material never before reported on, Lacan and Co recounts the Lacanian saga from an insider’s point of view. It is a tale of psychoanalytic politics which never strays far from family romance.
Indeed, in the final chapters of the saga, Lacan’s son-in-law, Jacques-Alain Miller, was put in the place of dauphin, much as Freud had made his daughter Anna his Antigone. Miller’s struggle for the succession brought to the surface the complex and self-contradictory nature of psychoanalysis as a family affair, its members united by blood, or by marriage, or by transferential bond.
Jacques-Alain Miller entered Lacan’s world at a fateful moment. In October 1963, Miller, then 19, had just completed his licence under the direction of the Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser. Althusser encouraged his student to make a serious study of Lacan’s work. But even as Miller was reading his first Lacan texts, the International Psychoanalytic Association demanded that Lacan’s name and that of his colleague Françoise Dolto be removed from its list of training analysts at the French Psychoanalytic Society, formed as a result of the schism of 1953. The International Association would no longer tolerate Lacan’s experiments with analytic technique – in particular, his practice of short sessions, often only five minutes in length. The short sessions were only one way in which Lacan asserted that, in his view, psychoanalysis could not be reduced to any formalised technique: it was a research instrument in a developing science and there should be no absolute rules. When the International Association ruled against him, Lacan declared himself ‘excommunicated’ and likened the International to a Church rather than a scientific organisation. In protest, he shut down his weekly seminar at Saint Anne’s hospital. When he resumed teaching in January 1964, it was on Althusser’s turf at the Ecole Normale Supérieure. The move was symbolic. Excluded from the world of internationally-recognised psychoanalysis, Lacan was now determined to seek recognition in intellectual worlds beyond it. Miller, who saw Lacan’s work as a theoretical whole that needed to be systematised, was well placed to assist in that goal. Unlike Althusser, he was not interested in integrating Lacan’s ideas with those of Freud, but in stressing their differences. The goal of this systematisation and purification was to put Lacanian theory in a better position for dialogue with other formal theories of discourse. What these theories had in common was the epistemological break that Althusser had already commended in Lacan’s reading of Freud: they specifically excluded the psychological subject.
In June 1964 Lacan founded the Freudian School. Unlike traditional psychoanalytic societies, it welcomed non-analysts as members. From its earliest days it was a meeting-place for mathematicians, philosophers, linguists, anthropologists and literary critics. It was there that Miller and a small group of Althusser students formed a study group on ‘the theory of discourse’. In January 1966, this group, known as the Cercle d’Epistémologie de l’Ecole Normale Supérieure, began to publish its own journal, Cahiers pour l’Analyse. Roudinesco remarks that Miller’s formalisation of Lacanian thought ‘led to a recasting of Lacanianism that had two immediate consequences, one theoretical, the other political’.
From 1966 to 1969, Cahiers pour l’Analyse built up an extra-analytic, theoretical Lacanianism, concerned with logic, formalism and science. Purified of all reference to the psychological subject, it was the vanguard for the Lacanian colonisation of the worlds beyond psychoanalysis. In its issues, Lacan appeared with writers such as Georges Canguilhem. Althusser, Derrida and Georges Dumézil.
Politically, the reference to an objective science meant that adversaries could be identified and labelled ‘deviationist’ in relation to a pure and absolute doctrinal norm. While Lacan produced concepts that were deliberately ambiguous and open to multiple interpretation, Miller sought to rationalise them. This ‘corrected’, more ‘coherent’ version of Lacan facilitated attacks on now more easily identifiable theoretical enemies. Before this period Lacan had not used the term ‘deviation’ to describe wayward disciples. In his very first presentation at Lacan’s seminar, however, Miller applied this politicised language to attack theoretical impurities in the work of Lacan’s followers, and specifically that of the analyst Piera Aulagnier. Aulagnier had refused Lacan’s invitation to respond, claiming that the charge of deviationism had no meaning in a clinical context. From this first interchange, Miller established a pattern that was to be fateful for the history of the Freudian School: a ‘scientific’ philosophical language was pitted against ‘impure’ clinical discourse. With Miller, the reference to science in Lacan’s work became a tool of Lacanian psychoanalytic politics.
In an interview with Roudinesco, Miller recalls that during this early period he saw his relation to Lacan in terms of Hugo’s La Légende des Siècles, where he identified with the character of Aymerillot.
Charlemagne was sad on his return from Roncesvaux. He had lost Roland and dreamed of conquering Narbonne. He turned to his barons, his old companions of many struggles, but none of them wished to take up the challenge. Dismayed, they turned their eyes to the ground. Suddenly, Aymerillot stepped away from the rest. Pale and fragile, he turned to Charlemagne and said: ‘I have come to ask you for what no man wants, the honour of being, oh my King, if God does not forsake me, the man of whom it will be said: It was he who took Narbonne ... I will enter Narbonne and I will be its conqueror. Later, I will punish scoffers, should any remain.’ More radiant than the archangel, Charlemagne said to Aymerillot: ‘You will be a count paladin.’ The following day the youth took the city.
In 1969, after its tenth issue, Miller interrupted publication of the Cahiers to turn his full attention to politics. He was now a committed Maoist, a member of La Gauche Prolétarienne. It was a turn of events that was quite pleasing to those at the Freudian School who were relieved that Miller would be occupied elsewhere than on their home turf. But they were naive to rejoice so soon. Miller was to take Narbonne, although to his foes he was less a chivalric knight than an implacable Jacobin, more Saint-Just than Aymerillot. In 1966 he married the King’s beloved daughter, Judith Lacan. In 1969 he began his step-by-step takeover of the Department of Psychoanalysis at Vincennes, a campaign waged to full victory by 1976 when Vincennes was his, a fiefdom within the University of Paris. And in 1972, while still at La Gauche Prolétarienne, he was passed what in retrospect was clearly Lacan’s most potent symbol of succession. Lacan decided that it was Miller who should edit and control the texts of his seminars. It was Miller who would inherit the rights to the Word.
Lacan began his weekly seminar in 1953; by the early Seventies, there were transcripts, notes, pirated versions, and a series of uncompleted attempts to edit them for publication. In June 1972, Lacan challenged Miller to do better. Miller agreed and left for Italy, where he worked with a stenographer’s transcript of the seminar of 1963-64, the first seminar he had attended, the first seminar after Lacan’s excommunication. A month later, Miller returned to Paris with a first draft. Roudinesco tells us that Lacan was pleased, but thought it was so much Miller’s work that he offered him co-authorship. Miller refused – the intellectual and commercial value of the seminar was tied to Lacan’s being sole author. But when Miller raised the possibility of other transcriptions by other editors, Lacan objected. It was at this point that his son-in-law picked up a second gauntlet. Miller agreed to do them all himself. ‘ “I’ll do them all,” Miller said. “I’ll call the whole thing Le Séminaire and divide it into numbered volumes.” The young man had set sail on a terrible voyage.’ Lacan bequeathed Miller a life’s work. Miller was not simply ‘editing’ but ‘establishing’ the text of the seminar. He added language where there were gaps, he removed contradictions and ambivalences. Roudinesco describes the documents that resulted as authored by Miller and guaranteed by Lacan: ‘Lacan underwrote his son-in-law’s work and made him the legal owner of the transcription. But at the same time, and perhaps without realising it, he also designated the tendency to whom it would fall to represent him for the future.’
In the course of this work, Lacan’s dependence on Miller grew; some would say their relationship became the dominant force in the last fifteen years of Lacan’s life. On the one hand, Miller was a scribe, writing out what the Maître had said, or perhaps meant to say. On the other, Miller revised and changed Lacan’s work as he ‘established’ it. Roudinesco describes the relation of their thoughts as ‘osmotic’. To some degree, Miller renounced his own voice to pledge himself to his version of Lacan’s. On his side, Lacan accepted Miller’s formulations and, to all appearances, came to see them as his own. Roudinesco remarks that ‘in Miller, Lacan met up with that reader – at once mirror and adversary to himself – whom he had spent his life looking for: a mixture of Corneille’s Rodrigue and the historical Saint-Just.’ The resulting symbiosis was to have important consequences for the history of Lacanianism. If by the Eighties Miller seemed to feel justified in speaking for Lacan, he was acting not only out of habit but out of a profound sense of Lacan’s wanting and needing him in this role.
In 1974, Miller’s relationship with the Lacanian enterprise entered a new phase. He went into analysis with Charles Melman, a prominent Freudian School analyst. Now, on his way to becoming an analyst, he could present himself as the legitimate heir not only of Lacan’s science but of his analytic kingdom as a whole, and would then be in the best position possible to ‘punish scoffers, should any remain’.
By 1979, the time for punishment had arrived. The Freudian School, dominated by Miller, was becoming increasingly factionalised; Lacan was withdrawn and silent. The School was a powder keg waiting to explode. It had grown to 609 members, and from Miller’s point of view. ‘Lacan no longer held an ideological majority.’ An incident in which Lacan acted imperiously (but no more so than he had done many times before) finally set it alight. Perhaps Lacan did not realise that, by distancing himself from his ‘subjects’ and imposing Miller on them, he had broken his side of the political contract that kept the School together. There could be an absolute monarch, but it had to be Lacan, not his designate. Perhaps Lacan wanted the keg to explode.
In February, Denis Vasse, vice-president of the Freudian School, had taken part in a meeting of Confrontations, a group that assembled psychoanalysts from all schools. As the formal and mathematical Millerian line became more dominant at the Freudian School, its analysts had increasingly turned to Confrontations. Lacan himself had never taken a public position against Confrontations, although he clearly was upset by the role it played as a forum for his disaffected students. Now, however, Lacan dismissed Vasse from his post as vice-president. The response within the Freudian School was immediate outrage. In the wake of the protest, a special general assembly was called for 30 September 1979; it was marked by an almost comic series of parliamentary irregularities which rode roughshod over all objections to Lacan’s imposition of his will.
The protests about the irregularities of the 30 September meeting made it clear that the Freudian School was divided into three factions, with different ideas about what it was and what it should become. A first group, loyal to Miller, supported Lacan’s work on the ‘mathemes’, the mathematical symbolisations of psychoanalytic research. Although this group included some analysts, its primary base was in philosophy. It was the group favoured by Lacan; and increasingly, it spoke in his name. The second faction – Roudinesco calls them the ‘great barons’ – was made up of the old guard of the Lacanian clinical tradition, many of whom had been loyal followers since the schism of 1953. This group carried the authority of distinguished individual careers and long-tested relationships with Lacan. But Lacan had turned away from them, pitting, as Roudinesco describes it, the young ‘red guard against his old friends in a concerted practice of divisiveness’. For years, Miller had taken the barons as his natural enemies. When the crisis hit, most of the barons would support Miller out of loyalty to Lacan and in the hope that Miller might prove satisfied with his hegemony at Vincennes and his control of Lacan’s publications and leave the training of psychoanalytic clinicians to them. But of course Miller wanted it all. As Lacan became increasingly silent and Miller increasingly ambitious, they would turn against the young man and accuse him of seizing Lacan’s power by falsely speaking in his name – indeed, by forging Lacan’s signature.
A third faction was composed of young analysts, openly hostile both to the mathemes and to Miller. Unlike the barons, however, their loyalty was not to Lacan but to the Freudian School as an institution. They felt that it was being put in jeopardy by Miller’s ambitions and Lacan’s dependence on him. They felt that the future of the Lacanian movement was in their hands. Angered by Lacan’s arrogant use of personal power, some of these younger analysts began to look into the idea of countering Lacan’s arbitrary actions with an appeal to legal authorities. After fifteen years of accepting absolute monarchy, this third group ‘discovered’ that the Freudian School could be held accountable to the rules of its incorporation under the ‘1901 law for public associations’.
In the end, this legal approach to the problem led to the unthinkable: a summons served on Lacan for fifteen years of administrative irregularities. At the Freudian School, the position of the Maître had stood in place of the law. The subversion of this unspoken assumption went like a shock wave through the School: it would not survive.
The decision to disband the School was taken at a meeting in Miller’s house on 30 December. Lacan was ill, those close to him knew that he had been diagnosed as having cancer of the colon and had refused surgical intervention. According to Solange Falade, vice-president of the School, there was a pressure to act quickly ‘in order to create something with him while there was still time’. According to Falade, ‘Lacan could no longer write so it was decided that Miller would compose a letter of dissolution and that Lacan would correct it. Lacan crossed out certain passages that he didn’t want ... On the first weekend of the New Year, Miller called to tell me that the letter was typed and ready to be sent.’ Roudinesco got a somewhat different version of these events from Miller, who claims that on 6 January 1980, at the Lacan country home at Guitrancourt, Lacan gave him the text of a letter of dissolution.
In his essay on Poe’s ‘The Purloined Letter’, Lacan uses the letter to describe the power of the signifier. All the actions of all of the characters in the story are determined by the presence of the letter, a signifier whose contents are unknown, a unit of signification which takes on meaning by its opposition to other units. The deployment of Lacan’s letter of dissolution had odd echoes of the Poe story. No one questioned Lacan’s commitment to its contents. But the question of the origins of the letter – that is, whether it was Lacan himself who put ink to paper – took on far greater importance than what the letter said.
In the crisis of dissolution, the osmotic, some said fusional relationship between Miller and Lacan, implicitly tolerated by Lacanians when they accepted Miller’s words as Lacan’s seminar, became intolerable to them. They became preoccupied with the degree to which Lacan was responsible for the dissolution of the School.
On Tuesday, 8 January, at the usual time for his seminar, Lacan read the letter of dissolution, dated Guitrancourt, 5 January. He called on those who wished to avoid ‘the deviations’ – note the Millerian word – ‘and compromises nourished by the Freudian School’ to make their wishes known to him within ten days. By the following Friday, Lacan had the stenographic transcripts of his seminars withdrawn from the Freudian School library.
When he founded the Freudian School, Lacan had said: ‘I hereby found – as alone as I have always been in my relation to the psychoanalytic cause – the Ecole Française de Psychanalyse.’ (The name of the School would change three months later to the Ecole Freudienne de Paris.) In his mind, since he had founded it alone, he could now dissolve it alone. Others felt differently. The School was a public institution. It was not his to dissolve. The battle lines were clearly drawn between those who saw psychoanalytic organisations as being about personal power, theoretical brilliance and transferential bonds and those who thought they must obey the law. ‘We don’t challenge Lacan’s desire to start something new or disavow whatever he pleases,’ said Michèle Montrelay, one of the younger analysts who opposed the dissolution. ‘That is his right and we respect it. But why can’t Jacques Lacan tolerate that things from which he separates stay alive?’
A parallel with Vienna would of course be inexact, but imagine that in the early Thirties Freud had informed his disciples that with the support of his daughter Anna he was shutting down the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society to begin a new group and that Jones, Sachs, Rank, Erikson, Deutsch and Abraham insisted that since they had participated in the development of the organisation, Freud could really not act without their approval. Freud treated psychoanalytic organisations as though he owned them. Lacan was stunned that there should be any question of the Freudian School not belonging to him.
Week after week, month after month, the French press ran the story of the Freudian School dissolution as front-page news. The dramatis personae were in costume for a spectacle that crossed King Lear with Dynasty. There was the dying Maître who pronounced the words Delenda est and announced the destruction of his kingdom; the scheming son-in-law, positioned to inherit the property, the woman and the power; the obedient daughter, dominated by father and husband; and the jealous students, divided in their frustration at not having familial access to their beloved Maître, reduced to fighting over the spoils of the kingdom. Finally, there were the Maître’s ageing comrades who had never had their deserved place in the sun. Remarkably for a troupe of psychoanalysts, the actors in the drama played willingly on the most public of stages. During the May events, psychoanalysts had anguished over speaking and writing in public forums. Now they behaved as though it was perfectly natural for them to heap invective and venom on each other in the pages of Le Monde and Libération, and on the airwaves of Europe No 1.
Meanwhile, Lacan’s call to his true followers had produced a remarkable result. In the week that followed his presentation of the letter of dissolution, Lacan received over a thousand letters from people wanting to continue with him, or in his terms, père-sévère, persevere with a severe, punishing and severing father. Only about three hundred of these letters were from members of the Freudian School. The rest were from teachers, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and physiotherapists who had in one way or another affiliated themselves to the Lacanian adventure. They were the audience, clientele, and proletariat of Freud’s French revolution. The popular success of the Lacanian movement had rested upon this waiting, fascinated public who had occupied the couches of the ever-swelling ranks of Freudian School analysts. They were the underclass of the French psychoanalytic culture and they had responded to Lacan’s call for love and allegiance. To almost everyone’s great surprise, on 21 February 1980, they all received an invitation to a new dance: ‘To the thousand whose letters attest their desire to go with him, Jacques Lacan replies that as of today, 21 February 1980, he founds the Freudian Cause.’
Three days later, Lacan called a meeting of all members of the Freudian School who were in favour of the dissolution. It was held on the evening of 15 March at the Hôtel St Jacques. On sale at the meeting was the first issue of Delenda, the ‘newsletter of the dissolution’. Three hundred and eight people presented their invitations to the guard at the door. That evening, the security arrangements were strict, embarrassingly so. Althusser showed up without an invitation, saying that he had been asked to come by ‘Libido and the Holy Spirit’. At first he was turned away, finally he was recognised and admitted. After Lacan’s speech to his disciples (‘The école is coming to the end of its course. You are still here with me. I left because it was dead and didn’t realise it’), Althusser took the floor. He spoke of Lacan as a pitiable clown and of his speech as monotonous and long-winded, and then attacked the analysts, whom he accused of forgetting their patients as they dithered in their conflicts, like ‘women sifting lentils as war breaks out’. Seventeen years after he had delivered Miller to Lacan, Althusser was returning Lacan’s evening to the Surrealists.
As soon as the battle for the dissolution of the Freudian School was won, the coalition behind Miller began to crumble. Lacan was ill, withdrawn and incoherent in this last year of his life. Yet the accusations against Miller were implicitly or explicitly addressed to Lacan, even as the protesters doubted that he was capable of writing, or even of responsibly signing, any communication he might send them in return. And incredibly, Miller’s defence consisted of letters signed by Lacan.
On 22 October 1980 modifications to the statutes of the Freudian Cause were filed with the Paris Prefecture of Police over Lacan’s signature. These amendments dealt a final blow to any semblance of democracy at the Cause. The School was transformed into a political party, and Miller into its Mao.
By now, hundreds of pages have been written agonising over the question of whether Lacan wrote or approved these new statutes. There had of course been controversy over the letter of dissolution, but in that case, even if Lacan didn’t write the letter, he clearly intended and supported its contents. But now Lacan seemed too weak and confused for his actions to indicate clear intentions. Yet his signature, his ‘letters’, were still being used to give direction to the ‘thousand’ of the Cause. If, before, Miller had taken the intentions of a weakened Lacan, turned them into prose, and submitted the words for Lacan’s signature, knowing that his father-in-law stood behind them, now the procedure clearly had to be different. The architects of the dissolution themselves accused Miller of using a senile Lacan as a rubber stamp for political intrigues which he could not possibly understand. Having supported Miller in Lacan’s name, it was now difficult for them to denounce Miller in Lacan’s name. Yet it would seem that for many of them this solution was preferable to facing the painful truth that Lacan had done everything he could to insure that his legacy (his money, his property, his daughter, his texts and his School) would go to Miller. It was easier to think of a feeble, trapped, even imprisoned Maître, powerless against the energetic, obsessed, tyrannical Miller. Miller presented an enemy that you could love to hate. At the time, it seemed to me that being enraged with Miller was a way of refusing to mourn Lacan, of refusing to accept that Lacan wished to give his legacy, not to a great clinician or to a lifelong follower, but to a member of the family.
In December 1980, tensions at the new Freudian Cause came to the surface in a crisis nominally about real estate. Miller had asked his analyst Charles Melman to help him secure permission for the Cause to rent the Freudian School’s former headquarters. When this had been achieved, Miller submitted a lease to Melman which the latter found unacceptable. Furthermore, Miller announced plans for a renovation of the headquarters so that they could be used as a library and editorial office. The renovation would have effectively closed the space to analytic teaching. In this symbolic harbinger of the ‘après-Lacan’, the philosopher was taking yet another revenge on the clinicians. Melman, a clinician who had loyally supported Miller throughout the crisis of the dissolution, was enraged, and was about to do something that broke all the rules: he was about to denounce a patient.
On 7 December, Melman sent 300 former members of the now-defunct Freudian School a letter attacking Miller, although it did not mention him by name. The letter aired grievances about Miller’s ambition and dishonesty and about the questionable legality of the 22 October amendments to the statutes of the Cause. The text of the amendments specify that they were voted at a general assembly, but no record of the meeting exists. Is it possible that the general assembly included only Lacan and Miller? Only Lacan and his secretary, Gloria Gonzalez? Is it possible that only Miller attended? Melman claimed that although both he and Solange Falade were on the board of directors of the Cause, neither had seen its new statutes before they were officially registered with the legal authorities. (‘My wife had to go search them out at the Prèfecture de Police!’) Most important, Melman said what no member of the inner circle had yet dared to say: he questioned the authenticity of the many letters supposedly sent by Lacan over the past year. Melman spoke of ‘apocryphal texts’, with the inference that Miller had been running the show all along, manipulating Lacan’s supposed ‘wishes’ and his signature:
The Freudian Cause, although in its cradle, has a malformation which runs the risk of killing it or turning it into a monstrosity. Why? Because everything is decided and inscribed in Lacan’s name although it is clear that he himself has nothing to do with these actions except for adding his signature, now become automatic. That is the painful fact.
In a failed and futile effort to show respect for the principles of clinical confidentiality, Melman insisted that his letter did not draw on information confided to him in the privacy of the analytic encounter. Psychoanalytic politics always mixes institutional and analytic affairs – the internal conflicts of a psychoanalytic society are fought out among people who are or were each other’s patients, analysts, supervisors, lovers, ex-lovers, spouses and ex-spouses. But even in the Lacanian milieu, which by the Eighties had more or less seen everything, Melman’s letter went beyond acceptable bounds.
Although Melman’s action could not be condoned, people believed him. January 1981 brought a flood of resignations from the Cause, so many that Miller decided to abandon the organisation and start a new one: the School of the Freudian Cause. Created on 19 January, the School’s statutes were attributed (as usual) to Lacan. Tragedy had already repeated itself as farce. This third act was pure politics. Miller wasn’t going to take the chance of having barons again. At the School of the Cause, no titles were to be permanent. (The much-coveted status of School Analyst would be held for only three years.) Nor would Miller tolerate grass-roots democracy or coalition politics. In this organisation, all votes would be by a public show of hands. Dissenters would be seen before they could be heard. Six days later, a group of 22 former School Analysts who had been loyal to Miller through the dissolution resigned. Within six months, each would be the head of his or her own school in the post-Lacanian diaspora.
The day after the group resignation, another letter signed by Lacan appeared in the mail: an appeal for love and for the School of the Freudian Cause.
It is the School of my students, those who still love me. I open its doors to them. I say to the thousand: ‘This is worth the risk. It is the only solution possible – and decent.’
The new letter left little doubt that Miller was writing Lacan’s texts.
At the end of the summer of 1981, at Guitrancourt, alone with his secretary Gloria, Lacan began to haemorrhage and was rushed to the hospital at Neuilly for emergency abdominal surgery. A few days later he fell into a coma. Lacan died on Wednesday, 9 September. His last words were unyielding: Je suis obstiné ... Je disparais.
Lacan’s body was brought to Miller’s home, where he had lived during the last months of his life. A few members of the School of the Freudian Cause were authorised to pay their last respects. On Friday, Jacques Lacan’s brother, a member of the Benedictine order, came to Paris to celebrate a mass in his memory. The next day Lacan, an atheist, had a secular burial at Guitrancourt. About thirty people accompanied the hearse to the small village. There were friends of the family, and a small delegation from the School of the Freudian Cause. The ‘compagnons de Lacan’, the ‘barons,’ the analysts who had been his closest collaborators for more than a quarter of a century, were all absent. In the end, the Lacanian journey was a family affair.
When Lacan rose to pre-eminence in the Sixties, French intellectual life was divided into politicised factions, mobilised by true believers. And his work became itself a system that competed on these ideological grounds. ‘Lacanianism served as an ideological alternative to Catholicism and gauchism,’ remarked L’Express: ‘It was a blessed time when Jesuits seized by doubt and stalled Althusserians could join the new Lacanian institution.’ Roudinesco goes further, believing that without the ‘Lacanian adventure’, a number of young French intellectuals of the generation of 68 would have been swallowed up by terrorist politics.
Roudinesco makes a point of the Lacanian recuperation of radicals who in some sense considered Lacan one of their own: ‘With the decline of French colonialism and the beginning of the American war in Vietnam, the young theorists of the time found in Lacanianism the wherewithal to struggle philosophically against an imperialism which was being attacked on all fronts.’ ‘The children of Mao,’ she says a little later, ‘recognised themselves in the figure of the master so intractable to the illusions of revolution.’ Roudinesco and I are in agreement on the alliance, even if only on the level of metaphor, between Lacan and the Left, but we disagree on what Lacan owed to May 68. In my view, the take-off of Lacanian psychoanalysis as a French social phenomenon was tied to the events of 1968. In their aftermath, French psychoanalysis became more permeable to politics and politics more permeable to it. A failure of radical politics led to the politicisation, at least in its discourse, of a significant segment of French psychoanalytic thought, a politicisation which facilitated its infiltration into French culture as a whole. Roudinesco, on the other hand, argues that the golden years for Lacanian psychoanalysis were 1960-65, and that, if anything, May was a harbinger not for the growth of the Lacanian School but for its dissolution.
The disagreement here turns on whether one focuses on the history of the psychoanalytic movement (the analysts, their patients, their analytic societies, even the intellectuals they directly interact with and write for) or on what I would call the psychoanalytic culture. A psychoanalytic culture includes intellectual circles, but goes beyond them to include far less exalted folk: the kindergarten teacher who takes a training course that includes a watered-down Lacanianism, the lycéen who learns about Lacan when she prepares the new ‘Freud question’ for the Baccalauréat, the writer of advice in the newly-psychologised agony columns. When Roudinesco harkens back to the early Sixties as the golden years, she betrays the perspective of a psychoanalytic insider and a historian of the psychoanalytic movement. From the point of view of a high-minded history of the movement, the rapprochement of the Lacanian take-off and the arrival of psychologically-minded advice laced with ‘Lacan-speak’ implies an ignorant or vulgar juxtaposition. But one does not need to get the genres confused to argue that a psychoanalytic culture is made up precisely of such little vulgarities, little pieces of ‘this and that’ taken up and woven into larger wholes. From the perspective of psychoanalytic culture, the story of Lacan and 1968 turns less on the emotions of displaced intellectuals and disaffected militants than on those of a larger group of people whose lives were touched by the spirit and the aspirations of May 68.
Theories most easily pass into popular culture when they offer a way for people to think through a collective issue of political and social identity. To make this point it is helpful to use a non-psychoanalytic example. French Existentialist writers began writing before the war, but it was only in the post-war years that history, in a sense, caught up with them. Their philosophy of extreme situations and actions for extraordinary individuals was resonant with the French experience of the Occupation and Resistance. Part of Existentialism’s popular appeal was that it provided a way to think through the issues of choice and individual responsibility which had been raised by the war years: to collaborate or not to collaborate, to betray or not to betray those who did.
The infatuation with Freud and Lacan which followed the May events of 1968 drew on a relationship between psychoanalysis and the May events that was in many ways similar to the one between Existentialism and the Occupation and Resistance. Both theories offered historically appropriable ‘things to think with’, theoretical materials for a cultural process analogous to the concrete manipulations that Lévi-Strauss called bricolage – ‘tinkering’.
May-June 1968 was an explosion of speech and desire. It called for the invention of new political forms that looked not to the politics of traditional political parties but to a politics of the person. For a short while the ‘events’ looked like a revolution in the making, but then suddenly they were over. After the events, people were left hungry for a way to continue to think about sexuality and self-expression as part of a revolutionary movement; for a way to think about the personal as the political and social. ‘Thinking through the events’ required a theory which integrated society and individual. Lacan provided that theory in his ideas about the transition from an imaginary to a symbolic realm, the transition from pre-social to social with the acquisition of language.
Lacan’s theory of the construction of the symbolic order, when language and law enter men and women, allows for no real boundary between self and society: human beings become social with the acquisition of language and it is language that constitutes human beings as subjects. In this way of looking at things, society doesn’t ‘influence’ an autonomous individual, but comes to dwell within him or her at the moment of the acquisition of language. In the description of this moment, Lacan, like Rousseau, suggested a powerful myth of passage that was able to serve as a framework for thinking about the relationship between the individual and society in a way that Wilhelm Reich’s discussion of a ‘natural man’ deformed by a crass society could not. In Lacan’s version of the banishment from Eden there is no natural man and therefore no way of thinking about society as coming afterwards to thwart his nature. The infant is alienated in the imaginary realm, a realm of mirrors and misidentifications, an imaginary order which always remains within us, as does the structure of the social order when we pass into the symbolic.
People who thought of themselves as being on the left were able to read this as suggesting that the notion of a private self is itself a construct of capitalism and that the distinction between private and public, the very touchstone of bourgeois thought, exists only as bourgeois ideology. This interpretation was surely far from Lacan’s original intention; and such appropriations might well have seemed off the point both to him and to dedicated members of his psychoanalytic movement. But they are the stuff of psychoanalytic culture.
Lacanianism offered images that were ‘good to think with’ in addressing the issues which surrounded the May events. The Lacanian mythology, his vivid and richly-imaged portrait of the social and linguistic construction of the subject in the symbolic dimension, became a common idiom in French discourse in the years that followed 1968. Indeed, for several years, much of French social thought situated itself in what one could term ‘Lacanian space’. That is to say, French social and political theory tended to accept the fundamentals of Lacan’s theoretical scaffolding: in particular, the notions that people are constituted by language, that our discourse embodies the society beyond, and that there is no autonomous ego. People who disagreed profoundly with each other and who even disagreed profoundly with Lacan nevertheless situated themselves in this space. Lacanianism became a bridge between French Marxism, French feminism, French anti-psychiatry and French psychoanalysis.
People use theory to work through powerful cultural images, to help to arrange these images into new and clearer patterns. In the case of the May events and psychoanalysis, people used contact with the theory to keep in touch with the stuff of which the events were made. For a person to use theory in this way does not require a full understanding of its subtleties. Understanding the power of theory in such cases implies a ‘sociology of superficial knowledge’ that does not trivialise the meanings of the theory in the life of the individual or of the culture.
Roudinesco describes Lacan’s genius as quite unlike Freud’s. It was less an ability to forge a new mode of knowledge than a capacity to join together, bricolage-style, the essence of the knowledge of his era. Lacan was a master of the synthetic abstraction. But although Lacan was an extremely abstract theorist, he also offered psychoanalysis new, concrete and manipulable ‘objects to think with’. His integration of linguistics and its notation into psychoanalytic discourse provided a highly manipulable object language. Whether or not one thinks that this new language moved psychoanalytic thinking in a desirable direction, its cultural power is unquestionable. It gave psychoanalysis new relevance to those who took text as their object; it opened up the ‘Freudian field’ to the larger study of discourse. And taken as a formal game, the play of equations, of little letters and big letters, of bars and ratios of signifiers to signified, was easy to pick up and experiment with. For Lacan, doing the theory becomes an integral element in the emergence of insight about the self, in the same sense that psychoanalytic insight grows out of the lived relationship with an analyst. Lacan himself was a bricoleur and he facilitated the work of bricolage on a cultural level.
Roudinesco’s book is long and densely written, but the careful reader will be richly rewarded. It is embroidered with beautiful detail, well-chosen anecdotes, finely-drawn portraits and personal reminiscences. To take only one example, there is the story of how Lacan and Freud never met, a tale of writing and postcards worthy of Derrida.
Lacan sent a copy of his 1932 thesis to Freud. A case-study of paranoia and erotomania, it had made him famous in France among Marxists, Surrealists, psychiatrists and novelists. In return, Freud sent Lacan a postcard, partially crossed out. Freud had wavered, writing two addresses, the correct one at Boulogne and his own son’s address on the Rue de la Pompe in Paris. Freud, Roudinesco writes,
acknowledged his receipt of Lacan’s gift with polite indifference: ‘Thank you for sending your thesis.’ The psychiatrist kept the postcard for a number of years, then entrusted it to one of his analysands, who held onto it. After Lacan’s death, the patient found himself on the couch of an analyst who had himself been trained by Lacan. He mentioned the precious correspondence. The therapist pricked up his ears and urged his client to show it to him. After a few hesitations, the patient did so. At which juncture, the document was published in the journal Ornicar. A striking parable indeed: the story of a letter sent, distributed, rediscovered, then returned by way of transference, seems like a tale by Edgar Allan Poe.
Lacan and Co’s greatest strength lies in moments of storytelling such as this one. Here we profit from Roudinesco’s being an insider: she grew up in a Lacanian household, she knows the gossip, people were willing to talk to her. Not surprisingly, the greatest weakness of the book is the complement of its virtue. As a historian of the French psychoanalytic movement, Roudinesco has no reason to take a stand on every controversy, but she often seems to. The reader is jarred by Roudinesco’s intervening either as referee or interpreting therapist. In her discussion of Lacan’s quarrels with Derrida, she is both referee and analyst.
The two men met at a conference in Baltimore in 1966 where both would be introduced to American audiences for the first time. Roudinesco begins in analyst mode when she adopts Lacan’s perspective on his trip to America. ‘Lacan travelled that day in tremendous loneliness. Without family, mistress or members of his court, our hero had to manage on his own in a world whose spoken language he did not know ... If he neglected those who might have offered him an opening, he paid homage to those who neglected him ... He loved his person and wanted his person to be loved by all.’ The analyst persona requires Roudinesco to be more than an insider – she becomes omniscient. She tells us Lacan’s state of mind: ‘And in the jet that took him over the ocean, he no doubt thought of the sentence Jung had confided to him and whose mythology he himself had spread’.And she tells us what Derrida was thinking as well: ‘Derrida was distrustful, and hesitated to throw himself into the seducer’s arms.’
Later, Roudinesco switches to the referee mode, faulting Lacan for making anonymous use of an anecdote about Derrida’s son Pierre that the philosopher told Lacan at a dinner in Paris a year after the Baltimore conference: ‘Lacan’s role in the affair was not a good one, and Derrida felt wounded. Understandably so.’ She then returns to her therapeutic voice, telling us that Lacan borrowed the anecdote in order to accuse this ‘recalcitrant philosopher of not submitting to his imaginary justice’. In the same spirit, Roudinesco adjudicates conflicts between Lacan and Paul Ricoeur. First, Lacan is chastised for being rude, even obnoxious, to Ricoeur and his wife. We learn how Lacan manoeuvred the couple into picking up the tab in an expensive restaurant and led them in a wild goose chase around Rome that ended with his abandoning them on the banks of the Tiber. But then we are told that Lacan had a right to his rage: it was a result of his disappointment that Ricoeur had not understood his seminars. In fact, Ricoeur ‘dared’, much to Roudinesco’s obvious displeasure, to attend Lacan’s seminars without having read Lacan’s texts. Roudinesco tells us that Ricoeur’s son, Jean-Paul, then a medical student, understood Lacan better than his ‘resistant’ father. Roudinesco’s evidence here seems to be based on the fact that Ricoeur’s son ‘rather quickly decided to direct himself toward a Lacanian couch in order to complete his training’: indeed, Ricoeur’s son ends up on Roudinesco’s mother’s couch. In the end, Roudinesco calls the Lacan-Ricoeur match in Lacan’s favour. Ricoeur is faulted for having only the most superficial understanding of the Maître. ‘Had he succeeded in understanding Lacan’s use of fundamental concepts he would never have written that the latter had “eliminated energetics to the benefit of linguistics” or proposed a “linguistic conception of the unconscious”.’ In the next paragraph Roudinesco argues her point by repeating it.
Lacan believed that Ricoeur had stolen his ideas, a position popularised by Lacanian disciples in the Sixties. Roudinesco adjudicates here as well. In her view, it is obvious that Ricoeur did not ‘steal Lacan’s ideas’ because he did not understand them well enough to steal them: ‘He invented a Lacan he was unable to read and whom he tried in vain to confront.’ When Ricoeur got things right, as, for example, when he allied himself with Lacan’s critique of Behaviourism, it was because this did not depend on a serious reading of the texts but on ‘common sense’ or ‘current opinion’.
Here, as in the rest of Lacan and Co, Roudinesco’s judgment is swift. She has lived in a highly politicised world where everybody has a well-established opinion of everybody else. Her role as a partisan makes the book lively and engrossing, but it is limiting too. In the end, Lacan and Co reflects the world it describes, a world where everyone has to take a stand for or against.
The dissolution, the Melman scandal, the politics of the Cause: all these are chapters in recent French psychoanalytic history in which patients denounce their analysts, analysts denounce their patients, and colleagues of long standing turn against each other. What are we to infer from their bitter quarrels?
Does the fact that these men and women are psychoanalysts call psychoanalysis itself into question? Isn’t it the job of psychoanalysts to help people understand and thus master such emotions? Are these out-of-control institutional warriors fit to do that kind of work? What do their political struggles say about their qualities as analysts? And what do their public scandals say about their analytic theories?
In physics, theories are not shaken by the neuroses of their creators. But in our scientific culture, opinions about psychoanalytic theory are coloured by an image of the well-analysed analyst, a person whose judgment is legitimated by their having achieved a degree of calm and distance about their own life. Just as each new analysand develops a fantasy about the successful analysis of his or her analyst, the analytic movement perpetuates myths about the successful analyses of its founder and major theorists. A myth of the well-analysed analyst is used to legitimate analytic theory.
Analysts are anxious about the release of Freud’s private papers because they fear scandal – an affair or an indiscretion – but more important, because they fear the banal. Will Freud be further revealed as a man who struggled like the rest of us with his demons and his pettiness, a man whose self-analysis got him so far and no further – and, most damagingly, a man whose unresolved conflicts are transparently spelled out in his theories?
In every part of the world where psychoanalysis has flourished, the myth of the well-analysed analyst brings together the psychoanalytic movement and the psychoanalytic culture. The myth is in the culture because it speaks to common sense. After all, asks the reasonable man and woman, how could Lacan have been a good clinician if he was so obviously hysterical? And the myth has the complicity of the professionals who want to use it to legitimate both their theories and their right to practise. The importance of the myth helps to explain why the identity of Anna Freud’s analyst was kept in the shadows for so long. Would a well-analysed Freud have undertaken the analysis of his daughter? And could a daughter analysed by her father be well analysed? What is the status of theoretical ideas born of such illegitimate unions?
Freud was protected by well-guarded secrets when he was alive and a loving biographer and closed archives when he died. In contrast, Lacan’s life was an open book. His private affairs were public knowledge, his indiscretions, jealousies, rages and pettiness were covered as front-page news. The man whom many hailed as the greatest psychoanalytic theorist since Freud was from the very beginning hard to place in the category of the ‘well-analysed’. His own analyst testified against him. In a 1953 letter to Marie Bonaparte, Rudolph Loewenstein wrote that Lacan never completed his analysis. Although he promised Loewenstein he would continue, Lacan dropped out of analysis as soon as he had been elected to membership of the Paris Psychoanalytic Society. ‘One does not cheat on such an important point with impunity,’ wrote Loewenstein. And Lacan’s analysands testified against him. For example, Didier Anzieu, who left Lacan during the schism of 1963, recounted his experience of what it was like to be on a Lacanian divan. ‘Sometimes, his maid knocked on the door, to bring tea, sandwiches, the mail, or to alert him that he was wanted on the telephone. Lacan gave instructions for the answers or even went to answer himself. “Don’t let this prevent you from continuing your session during my absence,” he told me once as he disappeared from the office.’
In France, such examples of Lacan’s self-indulgence and aggression have been talking points for challengers to his theory for nearly half a century. The debate began in analytic circles, but ended up reaching far beyond. Certainly for the popular press, the thousands of pages written on Lacan’s bad behaviour, and the ongoing squabbles among his closest descendants, imply that psychoanalysis is de-legitimated by psychoanalysts who are portrayed as unpleasant, unethical and unanalysed.
In 1988 a play adapted from Phyllis Grosskurth’s biography of Melanie Klein opened on the London stage. Mrs Klein shows psychoanalysis as a calling which can excite damaging passions. Melanie Klein, like Sigmund Freud, analysed her children. The play explores the tragic dimensions of this undertaking: to feed the theory, its most creative minds had a form of intercourse with their children which the theory itself would dismiss as impossible, and as destructive in its impossibility. In the play, the analyst, Klein, is at war with herself and her offspring. Indeed, she does not seem to know who her true offspring are. Are they the theory, her analytic candidates, or her biological children? Her daughter, Melitta Schmeideberg, and her analytic daughter, Paula Heimann, are locked in battle for her allegiance. Incredibly, and cruelly as the last act of the play unfolds, the daughter by blood does not win. We are far from a Hollywood popularisation of psychoanalysis where a rich and beautiful patient (in American films, Ginger Rogers was the actress most likely to play the analytic patient) tells all to an omniscient, silent and bearded analyst. We are in the rag-and-bone shop of the psychoanalytic life. It is a world that Jacques Lacan and Jacques-Alain Miller, joined to each other through marriage, deception and a fusional intellectual relationship, would surely understand.
Many British analysts, especially Kleinians, did not like the play, thought it disrespectful of Melanie Klein, their beloved mentor and friend. That British analysts are troubled by the story of Mrs Klein and her daughter reflects their fear that telling it undermines the legitimacy of the Kleinian enterprise – it was, after all, the same fear that caused the story of Anna Freud’s analysis by her father to remain, until recently, cloaked in taboo. But to my mind, Mrs Klein responds to a critical current challenge to the psychoanalytic culture.
If you accept the myth of the well-analysed analyst, materials that cast doubt on the psychological state of the theorist cast doubt on the status of the theory. The status of Lacan’s theory of the analyst rejecting the place of the sujet supposé savoir would be called into question if he insisted on taking that place himself. The status of Melanie Klein’s work on reparation to a mother would be called into question if she never made peace with her own. But this point of view is too simple. In Lacan’s terms, analysis is not a cure or a cleansing, but a search for the truth of the subject.
Deep truths about the issues that psychoanalysis touches are very often best understood and communicated by individuals who have experienced them in a raw form. In a conversation with an American analyst who claimed she had chosen her profession out of her sense of being the sort of strong person to whom others could turn to for help, Lacan admitted he had come to analysis ‘in just the opposite way’, drawn to Freud for the emphasis he had put not on man’s strength but on his vulnerability. Lacan spoke of the analyst as someone deeply in touch with the sense of being at risk and deeply in touch with the knowledge that it is possible ‘for each of us to go mad’. In the case of psychoanalysis, a science of self-reflection, theories embody the personalities of their theorists; elements of character etch themselves in theory, leaving traces of both strength and limitation. The limitations of each theorist and each theory mean that psychoanalysis is best seen as an art form where theorist and patient, theory and symptom, need to be delicately matched. The construction of theory is a social process; theorists with different personality structures must collaborate on the edifice.
The passions of Mrs Klein and the excesses of the Lacanian saga illuminate and do not necessarily undermine the power of their contributions. In Lacan and Co, Roudinesco takes sides, but she is never squeamish about unpleasant details. Her work is a contribution to a warts-and-all history of psychoanalysis. Only when psychoanalysis faces all aspects of its history, can it fully address the question of the relationship between psychoanalytic theory and the psychological vulnerability of its theorists. Confronting this question stands between where we are today and a mature psychoanalytic culture.
Send Letters To:
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN
Please include name, address, and a telephone number.