Editor’s note: Below is the English translation of an interview with the French psychoanalyst Jean-Luc Vannier about the similarities, differences and the crossing points between the psychology of the depths and the brachylogy. This interview has been published by the Tunisian philosophical review “Conversations” and posted afterward on the Tunis based website Tunisvisions.
Does the word, its emergence or its disappearance in the sentence, its deformities like its ellipses, at the heart of the two sciences, make it possible to bring them closer together? Jean-Luc Vannier reminds us of the pre-eminence of the unconscious and that of the affect in the Freudian approach, which would distance the psychoanalysis from all philosophy. On the contrary, the psychoanalysis, rather than the language, too often posited in terms of structure, and perhaps unlike the brachylogy based on the reasoned intelligence of the “logos”, is interested in the infiltration of it by the disturbing strangeness of the drive. If, as the author explains, French remains an eminently political language, it nevertheless suffers from a weakening of the values it embodies. The atrophy of the word has its part of responsibility in the increase of the violence.
Conversations: Conversation is consubstantial with the psychoanalytic approach. What does the expression “psychoanalytic conversation” mean to you?
Jean-Luc Vannier: It is true that Freud did use this word to describe what is going on during an analytic session. Especially with his “ambulatory therapies” as evidenced by his walk in the forest with the composer Gustav Mahler. The session, physically speaking, gathers two people, the patient and the analyst. I say physically because psychically, it is the busy day crowd: the stories, the unconscious, the desires of the two protagonists and, to add to this encumbrance, the framework and the transfer. We will probably have an opportunity to talk about it later. Concerning what you call the “analytic approach”, the expression alone deserves a development because it envisages both a movement with a beginning, but where would this begin? In the preliminary session? In the first appointment by phone? In the discovery and the acceptance of a symptomatic bizarre of the one who decides to undertake an analysis? — and, then, with the expression of a request, of a step to be made towards something with all the uncertainty that weighs on the finality. Instead of “conversation”, I prefer the word listening: the patient speaks and the analyst listens to. Perhaps it will be appropriate to explain what we call the “setting” and “the fundamental rule”.
Conversations: Does the psychoanalytic practice not require a fundamentally brachylogical dimension, insofar as it necessarily involves interaction, in line with the Socratic maieutics?
Jean-Luc Vannier: If there is indeed what you call an “interaction”, or something like the word “interaction” as it seems to me to be overused — between the analysand and the analyst, we will make a serious mistake while confusing psychoanalysis with the birth (accouchement) of spirits. And this, for several reasons. I will mention at least three of them. The first is that the mind of the philosophers, or the Philosopher, is astronomically distant from the analyst’s preoccupations, namely the unconscious or the Id in the second Freudian topology. “Lying” on paper by the writings of Plato, his late pupil, Socrates could boast of making the human being having access to a knowledge “by him ignored”. Like all philosophy, this is a conscious, univocal knowledge that is acquired through the reasoning, a discussion intelligently conducted. Psychoanalysis is dealing, for its part, with the human unconscious, a concept rejected or ignored by the philosophy. An inaccessible unconscious that can only be apprehended by its offspring, its waste during an analysis. An unstructured unconscious — it is not a “psychic instance” like the others, and formed by the archaic. An unconscious, marked by dualism, buried, indomitable, unknowable, unspeakable … Only the term sometimes used “daimonic” because of the instinctive claims of this unconscious, could remind us of the elements of the Platonic conflict.
The second distinction with “Socratic maieutics” lies in the fact that the analysis does not aim at acquiring a knowledge; it would invariably bring back to the conscious or the preconscious of the individual and would in fact constitute a failure of the analytic work, but operates a decentring in the way to the search for this knowledge. What Professor Jean Laplanche called the “Copernican revolution of psychoanalysis” (Jean Laplanche, Le primat de l’autre en psychanalyse, Champs Flammarion, n°390, 1997). A decentring being imperative by the mechanism of the repression which prevents to find the object forever lost and replaced by the symptom. Repression is a loss that will never be compensated for by the total return of the repressed. This is again a major difference with the philosophy, which remains a conversation between adults, as the original repression occurs in the infantile period, in this essentially asymmetrical relationship between the adult and the child, where it is housed in the psyche of the latter: An “internal foreign body” according to Freud. Let us note already that the analytic session replicates this asymmetry in the relation between the analysand and his analyst.
Third, and not least, the separation, if not the radical opposition between the philosophy and the psychoanalysis: the latter’s refusal to promote a “Weltanschauung”, a vision of the world. At the beginning of his work, Freud could write to his friend Wilhelm Fliess: I cherish in the greatest secrecy the hope of arriving by the same means to my original goal, philosophy. (Letter of the 1st January 1896, Sigmund Freud, Lettres à Wilhelm Fliess 1887-1904, Editions complètes, PUF, 2007, p. 205). But in 1925, he acknowledged: I have carefully avoided approaching philosophy properly so called. A constitutional incapacity has greatly facilitated me in such an abstention.(Sigmund Freud, Autopresentation, Œuvres complètes, XVII, 1923-1925, PUF, 2016, p.107). What happened between these two assertions? Undoubtedly, Freud has learned the lessons of his principal discoveries, the unconscious and the infantile sexuality, which render any proposal, every comprehensive approach as English say, uneffective: such a vision of the world would be tantamount to denying realism of the unconscious, to fade the manifestations of the instinctual conflict inherent to the human psyche and to reduce analytical interpretation to a hermeneutic, whereas “the analyst whenever he claims to translate or help to translate helps to repress” (Jean Laplanche, Entre séduction et inspiration, l’homme, Coll. “Quadrige”, PUF, 1999, p. 107). Indeed, Freud defends psychoanalysis as “the spokesman of the vision of the scientific world”, but at the same time he regrets that “philosophy goes astray by overestimating the value of knowledge of our logical operations”, that it “no immediate influence on the large crowd of men” (Sigmund Freud, “D’une vision du monde”, Nouvelles suites des leçons d’introduction à la psychanalyse, Œuvres complètes, XIX, 1931-1936, PUF, 2013, pp. 244-245).
Conversations: Linked to a philosophy of freedom, the desire to know one another better, psychoanalytic practice requires a certain analytical and distant relationship to the official speech and to the declared truth. Can we see in this report a reason for mistrust of all forms of totalitarianism with regard to the psychoanalytic practice?
Jean-Luc Vannier: The truth in psychoanalysis can only be that of the subject himself. And this truth is not even that of its history but that of its psychic reality. Since their abandonment of hypnosis in 1897, psychoanalysts have forbidden themselves, but does the prohibition not precisely ground the existence of the failure, even that of the sin? — any orientation intended to conform the patient to a societal purpose. In the same lectures (1935) Freud reminds us, in the name of the science, that truth “cannot be tolerant, that it admits neither compromise nor restriction”. As such, adaptive psychology, called in the United States “ego psychology” and which claims to rely on the “free and autonomous self” of the patient, does not fit with the traditional requirements of the Freudian metapsychology. In his most recent texts (Sigmund Freud, L’analyse finie et l’analyse infinie, Œuvres complètes, XX, 1937-1939, PUF, 2014, p.13), Freud treats this ego as a poor wretch torn between several masters, including that of external reality. In what way should one accept as it is the case in the United States, to exploit the analysis to make it a kind of psychological orthopedics intended to straighten a subject like you straighten a twisted bar? Who are we to infuse the patient’s reality with any orientation or, even worse, to point out to him the paths of a “successful” synthesis, perhaps in terms of a liberal economy, of his personality? About freedom, I come back from several conferences and seminars in Iran. I am very pleasantly surprised to see the rise in importance of the psychoanalysis, and this, unlike other countries in the region which are much more reluctant in the matter. The success of the “talking cure” in Iran is less due to a concern for verbalisation in a confined space and able to guarantee freedom of expression. In comparison with therapeutic practices perceived as too institutionalised in the image of cognitive and behavioural therapies (CBT), the analytical clinic appears to be more individual, better disposed to hear the subject’s history without seeking to insert it into a pre-established reading grid and more desirous to remove any prejudice, mainly in the field of the human sexuality.
Conversations: You talk about Iran. What about France ?
Jean-Luc Vannier: French is an eminently political language. Language of the oath of Strasbourg through his ancestor, the Roman, imposed against the Latin of the clerics. Official language of an administration by the ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts since 1539. Instrument of an Academy which “has been constituted rather than requested” by Richelieu and in whose hands it serves to magnify the royal power and to ensures the prestige of France abroad. Voltaire himself, in one of his philosophical letters, demands from the Academy efforts to print “the good works of Louis XIV”. Consecrated by the revolution with the report of the Abbot Gregoire on the “necessity and the means to annihilate the patois and to universalise it”, it will then conquer, by will or by force, the esteem of Europe to become “the companion of the Empire”. “Unity of culture and its language”, an expression of its existence, one reads finally, in the speech of a famous recipient at the French Academy. French is the bearer of democratic principles articulated to the power of a state always ready to defend them and to which it identifies to form what the historian and writer Marc Fumaroli calls “a literary nation”. Pamphlete writers or operatic librettists have always skillfully coped with state censorship: the former bypassing it by ingenious metaphors, subtle allegories, the latter by transferring to the notes of music, cadences and tones, their unspeakable thoughts. Sublime magic of the verb in which Voltaire can boast of Newton’s grandiose funeral to better ridicule the indecent burial of Descartes in the cemetery of the dead children without baptism in Stockholm. And Mozart to build with Da Ponte a “Nozze di Figaro” which braves the prohibition enacted by the Emperor Joseph II to copy the play of Beaumarchais which aspires to celebrate, humanly and politically, equality between men and women.
Conversations: Would this freedom of expression now be threatened?
Jean-Luc Vannier: The respect for form , to be politically correct in the name of a seriously threatened social peace, comes to force, to limit or even to disguise the expression of the substance. Stuck in its expression between prohibition and self-censorship, the word has been reduced to the magic formula without, if one dares to say, the magical effects of the formula. By dint of privileging the normative model and in the name of ideals which it seeks all the more to immobilise as the latter flee this confinement, the vocabulary, including that of the political decision maker, has changed to extend the concept of “verbal Malthusianism” stated once by Roland Barthes on the French, in a “sacred idiom” with universal but completely disembodied pretensions: the motto “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” is not, alas, exception to the rule. By dint of being confined to its “necessary and sufficient point”, political discourse resembles the academic French of the 18th century, far away from its base, separated from its “social expanse”. By dint of cutting off realities, the political language has also become fictitious. Somewhat like what could happen during a session of psychoanalysis: “When symbolism speaks, free associations are silent.” (Jean Laplanche, Entre séduction et inspiration, l’homme, PUF, 1999, p. 249).
Conversations: In psychoanalysis, the rule of condensation tends to identify itself with the principle of economy, of compression, of which Freud says that it is essentially different from a simple summary. Do you agree? “The process of condensation”, writes Freud moreover, is particularly sensitive when it reaches words and names. How can this be articulated with the concept of “New Brachylogy”, especially the perspective that is yours, with the distance and kinship that you can recognise yourself in relation to orthodox Freudism?
Jean-Luc Vannier: Condensation is one of the modus operandi of the primary processes. To briefly remind readers unfamiliar with psychoanalysis: a single representation alone represents several associations of which it is taking charges, literally speaking, for the energies attached to others. In short: one could imagine a giant screen on which several films would be viewed, which would accentuate the perceptive chaos and the dramatic intensity. This very simplified illustration also aims to make us understand, perhaps in comparison with the Brachylogy, that the condensation “must not be assimilated to a summary”: the extreme motility, the interchangeability of the representations discards the possibility of reducing them to a concept (J. Laplanche & J.-B. Pontalis, Vocabulaire de la psychanalyse, PUF, 2014, p. 89). Having said that, you are right to emphasise the dimension of the libidinal economy in this process as Freud emphasised its sensitivity when it reaches words, notably by neologisms. I would like to put more emphasis on what seems to me more important in this process of condensation: the intersection, the nodal point, the motorway junction if you prefer, where it arises. To privilege the elements that can be spotted in the “work of the dream” — the transformations, the deformities … the attempts to interpret the latent thoughts of the dream itself: “It is the work of the dream that produces this form and it is, alone, what is essential in the dream.” (Sigmund Freud, L’interprétation du rêve, PUF, Coll. « Quadrige », 2013, p. 558 (Note added in 1925).
Conversations: The word depends on the context in which it is used. In the psychoanalytic process, is not the brevity of analysis capable of creating meaning in itself or limiting its development?
Jean-Luc Vannier: Yes, in a way. If some evoke a “signifying chain” of words, I prefer to point out in the sentence, well beyond the verbal, and therefore, the word itself, the conditions of its appearance, its rise, even its stumbling: the intonation of the voice, the breath of the breathing, the gesture that punctuates the expression. The affects of the patients tell us the way, in spite of themselves: here, a hysterical cramp marks a return of the repressed, there, a reptilian choreography on the couch develops a seductive perspective, here again, a skin irritation appears or disappears during a session. Jean-Bertrand Pontalis warns us: “The object of the analytical method is not the deformed memory, but the work carried out by the deformity” (Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, Ce temps qui ne passe pas, Folio Essais n° 392, 2013, p. 116). And then, there is the silence, such an eloquent silence…
Conversations: Traditionally, the analyst supports the approach of a continuous analysis, when Lacan advocates an extreme brevity of certain sessions … What do you think?
Jean-Luc Vannier: Between the brevity of the session carried out by the Lacanian “scansion” and the interminable analyses, is it not possible to find a happier outcome? You refer to “a continuous analysis” at the risk of giving the feeling of a large and clear highway, while the fundamental rule of free associations, “to say everything that passes by the head”, invites, on the contrary and to spin the metaphor, to take the small roads of crossing, to face the dented paths and possible impasses while being tempted by the forbidden direction! Despite the anguish of our patients who begin with this question: “Where did I finish last time?”, each session opens onto the unknown, the unexplored, the unexpected. To the resistances of the cleverly organised narrative are opposed the divagations nourished by the infiltration of the fantastic. And to the “continuous analyses”, many prefer the “slices” system, which, notwithstanding the hypothesis of detecting resistance to the treatment, takes better account of the occupational vicissitudes of the modernity. A second work which, more often than not, illuminates and deepens the first one.
Conversations: Is it necessary to situate the brevity of the sessions as practised in specific situations, rather on the side of the avoidance of the relationship and the impossibility of hosting? How is the famous behavioural and CBT a brief therapy?
Jean-Luc Vannier: The brevity of the Lacanian session, since it is this, cannot be interpreted in this sense. But you must ask the Lacanians about it. If, on the other hand, you mean in this “avoidance of the relationship” and in “the impossibility of accepting”, a clear rejection of the egotic claim by the analysis, I can conceive it. The Lacan of the very beginnings has not much to do, in this respect, with the Lacan of the late years. As for the CBT, I find that their followers do not hesitate to refer their patient in therapeutic failure to the psychoanalysts, but a patient passed through the analysis rarely goes to consult a cognitive and behavioural therapist. We must also be wary of the fashion which may draw psychoanalysis towards “the satisfaction of the drive by the shortest means” as quotes Freud. An example: recently the very serious and very institutional Tavistock Clinic in London published a quantitative study that measures the long-term benefits of psychoanalysis in comparison with CBT. Despite the evidence for therapeutic success, I sincerely lack enthusiasm for such a publication. Psychoanalysis should not, in my opinion, enter into this kind of competition which completely spoils the specificity of the analytic work, in particular by giving the impression of an exaggerated attachment to the symptom, the “furor sanandi” denounced in its time by Freud: something we should, on the contrary, remain constantly distant from if we are to succeed in the process of disclosing the origins of the mental illness and achieving the fading of the symptoms.
Conversations: How do you like Lacan’s idea that it is not “the said” that counts, it is “the saying”?
Jean-Luc Vannier: The formula of Lacan, borrowed from Freud, is known: “The patient always tells the truth but he does not tell the whole truth”. This is the “mi-dire”. Undoubtedly the one you are quoting is referring to what I explained earlier about the need for analytical work to take into account the form of the saying and not only its content.
Conversations: Psychoanalysis promotes in the patient a work of self-reconstruction through speech. During the analysis, there may be moments of silence. Does this silence make sense? Is the therapist’s silence likely to cause frustration in the patient? How do you justify this choice of silence by practitioners?
Jean-Luc Vannier: What kind of silence are we talking about ? Figure of emptiness or verbal abstinence? Let us begin with that of the analyst. For once, two clinical cases will better illustrate the point than a long development: during a first face-to-face session, a man in his 40s violently bursts into tears evoking his missing mother. To the point of falling off his chair. My silence, but certainly not my absence, accompanies this violent crisis. A few years later, finishing his analysis, he will say: “Do you remember the first session? If you had said anything or had moved, I would never have come back.” Another time, a heavily anguished teenager tries to fill a preliminary session with questions, then, facing my silence, begins to comment, aloud and one by one, all the movable peculiarities of my clinic room: carpets, hangings, paintings, light fixtures, books. At the end, she said: “I did not come for me but to talk to you about my mother.” And to add in the last minutes: “Thank you for allowing me to do so.” Silence, the golden rule in the session, is by no means a void but a form of abstinence, in “solidarity with other parameters that define the analytic situation”. (André Green, La folie privée, Folio Essais n°424, 2013, p. 369). The silences of the analyst also have their functions: they are resisting, refusing to say, but they can, more often than we think, announce a lifting of the repression. A grave silence often precedes the formula: “I have always known it.” The patient who comes to the session, exclaiming, “Today, I have nothing to say.” augurs in general for a surprising wealth of associations to come.
Conversations: Why do psychoanalysts often resort to a vocabulary that is difficult to access for the “commoner of mortals”? Is there no way to popularise the concepts of psychoanalysis? Does not the promotion of a general culture that gives psychoanalysis its place reduces doubts about the speech of the psychoanalyst?
Jean-Luc Vannier: I think the question is more addressed to the metalanguage of the Lacanians. A metalanguage whose supposed universality of signifiers tends to desexualise the drive and to promote a “trans-individuality” of the verb where Freud’s analysis is based precisely on the affective reinscription of the words in and through the human psyche. Sigmund Freud wanted to be extremely educational, seeking with a luxury of illustrations until borrowing images of military strategy, to make accessible to the greatest number the presentation of his ideas. And this, to the point of writing introductory lectures which were never delivered! Jacques Lacan, for reasons which even his supporters cannot always explain, has multiplied in his late years the most abstruse formulas. What a contrast between the conciseness inherent in the “foreclosure of the father’s name” and the imbroglio of mathematics and other Borromean knots.
Conversations: The fundamental stake is undoubtedly the place of man in the world. Psychoanalysis therefore proposes a work of self-discovery. What is really revealed in a human condition marked by the fragmentation and fragmentation of the subject?
Jean-Luc Vannier: Carl Gustav Jung would doubtless not hesitate to propose elements of answer to your question: the anagogical tendency, that of an interpretation upwards and towards the future remains characteristic of the Jungian interpretation with “an evident concern to show in the dream productions, the way of conciliation, the best being, a way of resolving conflicts” (Jean Laplanche, Problématiques V, Le baquet, Transcendence du transfert, PUF, 1998, p. 154). I am not sure that psychoanalysis should be characterised by a “work of self-discovery”. We prefer to emphasise the explicitation of the resistances designed to make the communication between the psychic instances as fluid as possible and to establish a link, in the sense of linking the chaotic drives, to reach one of the most doubtful assertions of Freud: Wo Es war, soll Ich werden. But the founder of the psychoanalysis, describing himself as a “happy pessimist” had little illusion about the future of mankind when he stated in Le Malaise dans la culture (1930): “One could be tempted to say that it has not entered into the plan of the Creation that man should be happy.”
Conversations: Must we say everything — everything up to exhibitionism?
Jean-Luc Vannier: It is certainly not in the analyst’s office that exhibitionism is unleashed today : no doubt about this because of the fact that we can, we must even say everything. Why so much importance given to the word? Freud, in his earliest metapsychological texts, and especially in the aphasia, the mutism in popular language, explains that the drive, which originates in organic excitations generating internal tensions to which the subject cannot escape, finds its expression at the psychic level in the form of a delegation, a kind of agent to represent it. In order to simplify the Freudian scheme, this delegation consists of two representations: the first, essentially visual, which derives from the alienating thing itself, the memory trace, the inscription of all or part of the event in the psyche of the human being, and then, the essentially acoustic one, which derives from the word. This second word representation essentially links verbalisation to awareness. The representation of words underlies the curative process of psychoanalysis which makes it possible to pass from the primary process to the secondary process, more elaborated, an element of repression to consciousness, or, to borrow Freud’s precise expression, image associated with a verbal image can acquire the specific quality index of consciousness. Even if the privilege of the representation of the word is not reducible to a supremacy of the auditory on the visual, as evidenced by, for example, the schizophrenia, it must be emphasised how much the word pronounced during a session, either by the analyst in his interpretation, or by the patient during a free association, comes to somehow dissipate an alienating affect. But since Freud, the fate of the word has known many vicissitudes.
Conversations: Would the word no longer be “the murder of the thing”?
Jean-Luc Vannier: An observation is needed after 30 years of my university teaching: the colleges and university students have less and less vocabulary to express themselves accurately. More than once, when they ask a question, they have difficulty formulating the common name or the adjective even if the idea is clear in their minds. Some of them are very frustrated. Hence my reflections, mixed with anxiety, on the consequences of an impoverishment of the language reducing this faculty of passing from the identity of perception to the identity of thought: in a clearer sense, the word missing or imperfect is replaced by onomatopoeia, primitive sound and soon, in case of further failure to communicate, succeeds the violence of the act. Will metalanguage in process of invention by Generation Y be able to compensate for these deficiencies?
Conversations: The author of the famous Fragments of an Empathic Psychoanalysis, Serge Tisseron militates for an open-minded psychoanalysis. Other practitioners rebelled against the dogma of transparency. And you?
Jean-Luc Vannier: I did not think that psychoanalysis, whose aim remains to give the subject a freedom that is lacking, was intolerant! Unless your question raises that of the institutions allegedly responsible for framing it. Psychoanalysis does not rhyme with organisation. Not to mention his report, impossible to plagiarise Lacan, to “structures”!