So far as my place is concerned, things go back to the year 1953. At that time, in psychoanalysis in France, we were in what might be called a moment of crisis. There was talk of setting up an institutional mechanism to settle the future status of psychoanalysts. All accompanied by big election promises. If you go along with Mr So-and-so, we were told, the status of psychoanalysts will quickly be granted all sorts of official sanctions and blessings — especially medical sanctions and blessings,
As is the rule with promises of this kind, nothing came of them. And yet something was set up as a result. It so happened that this change did not suit everyone, for extremely contingent reasons. So long as things had not been settled, there could be — were — frictions, what we call conflicts.
In the midst of this commotion, I found myself, along with a number of others, on a raft. For ten years, we lived on, well, on whatever came to hand. We weren’t completely without resources, weren’t completely down and out. And in the midst of all that, it so happened that what I had to say about psychoanalysis began to have a certain import.
These are not things that happen all by themselves. You can talk about psychoanalysis just like that, bah!, and it is very easy to verify that people do talk about it like that. It is not quite so easy to talk about it every week, making it a rule never to say the same thing twice, and not to say what is already familiar, even though you know that what is already familiar is not exactly unessential. But when what is already familiar seems to you to leave a lot to be desired, seems to you to be based on a false premise, then it has very different repercussions.
Everyone thinks they have an adequate idea of what psychoanalysis is. The unconscious . . . well. . . it’s the unconscious.’ Nowadays, everyone knows there is such a thing as an unconscious. There are no more problems, no more objections, no more obstacles. But what is this unconscious? We’ve always known about the unconscious. Of course there are lots of things that are unconscious, and of course everyone has been talking about them for a long time in philosophy. But in psychoanalysis, the unconscious is an unconscious that thinks hard. It’s crazy, what can be dreamed up in that unconscious. Thoughts, they say, Just a minute, just a minute. ‘If they are thoughts, it can’t be unconscious. The moment the unconscious begins to think, it thinks that it’s thinking. Thought is transparent to itself; you can’t think without knowing you are thinking.’
Of course, that objection no longer carries any weight at all. Not that anyone has any real idea of what is refutable about it. It seems refutable, but it is irrefutable. And that is precisely what the unconscious is. It’s a fact, a new fact. We have to begin to think up something that can explain it, can explain why there are such things as unconscious thoughts. It’s not self-evident.
No one has in fact got down to doing that, and yet it is an eminently philosophical question.
I will tell you from the outset that that is not how I set about it. It so happens that the way I did set about it easily refutes that objection, but it is no longer really an objection because everyone now is absolutely convinced on that point.
Well then, the unconscious has been accepted, but there again we think that a lot of other things have been accepted – pre-packaged and just as they come — and the outcome is that everyone thinks they know what psychoanalysis is, apart from psychoanalysts, and that really is worrying. They are the only ones not to know. It’s not only that they do not know; up to a point, that is quite reassuring. If they thought they knew straightaway, just like that, matters would be serious and there would be no more psychoanalysis at all. Ultimately, everyone is in agreement. Psychoanalysis? The matter is closed. But it can’t be for psychoanalysts. And this is where things begin to get interesting. There are two ways of proceeding in such cases.
The first is to try to be as with it as possible, and to call it into question. An operation, an experience, a technique about which the technicians are forced to admit that they have nothing to say when it comes to what is most central, most essential — now, that would be something to see, wouldn’t it! That might stir up a lot of sympathy because there are, after all, a lot of things to do with our common fate that are like that, and they are precisely the things psychoanalysis is interested in. The only problem is that, well, psychoanalysts have, as fate would have it, always adopted the opposite attitude.
They do not say that they know in so many words, but they imply that they do. cWe know a bit about it, but let’s keep quiet about that. Let’s keep it between ourselves.’ We enter this field of knowledge by way of a unique experience that consists, quite simply, in being psychoanalysed. After that, you can talk. Being able to talk does not mean that you do talk. You could. You could if you wanted to, and you would want to if you were talking to people like us, people who are in the know, but what’s the point? And so we remain silent with those who do know and with those who don’t know, because those who don’t know can’t know. After all, it is a tenable position. They adopt it, so that proves it’s tenable. Even so, it’s not to everyone’s liking. And that means that, somewhere, the psychoanalyst has a weak spot, you know. A very big weak spot.
What I have said so far may seem comical to you, but these are not weaknesses. It is coherent. Only, there is something that makes the analyst change his attitude, and that is where it begins to become incoherent. The psychoanalyst knows perfectly well that he has to be careful not to surrender to his temptation, to his penchant, and in his day-to-day practice he does watch his step. Psychoanalysis in the collective sense, on the other hand, or psychoanalysts, when there’s a crowd of them, a host of them, want it to be known that they are there for the good of all. They arc very careful, however, not to move straight from this ‘good of all’ to the good [bien] of the individual, of a particular patient, because experience has taught them that wishing people well [bien] all too often brings about the opposite effect. It is rather in their dealings with the outside world that psychoanalysts become close to being real propagandists.
No, insofar as they are represented as a profession, psychoanalysts absolutely want to be on the right side, on the winning side. And so, in order to prove that they are, they have to demonstrate that what they do, what they say, has already been found somewhere, that it has already been said, that it is something you come across. When you come to the same crossroads in other sciences, you say something similar: namely, that it’s not all that new, that you’d already thought of it.
And so we relate this unconscious to old rumours, and erase the line that would allow us to see that the Freudian unconscious has absolutely nothing to do with what was called the ‘unconscious’ before Freud. The word had been used, but it is not the fact that the unconscious is unconscious that is characteristic of it. The unconscious is not a negative characteristic. There are lots of thing in my body of which I am not conscious, and that are absolutely not part of the Freudian unconscious. That the body takes an interest in it from time to time is not why the unconscious workings of the body are at stake in the Freudian unconscious.
I give you this example because 1 do not want to go too far. Let me simply add that they even go so far as to say that the sexuality they talk about is the same thing that biologists talk about. Absolutely not. That’s sales patter [boniment]. Ever since Freud, the psychoanalytic crew have been propagandizing in a style that the word boniment captures very well. You have the good [1e bon] and then you have the wishing them well [le bien] that I was telling you about just now. This really has become second nature for psychoanalysts. When they arc amongst themselves, the issues that are really at stake, that really bother them and that can even lead to serious conflicts between them, are issues for those who know. But when they are talking to people who do not know, they tell them things that are intended to be a way in, an easy way in. It’s standard practice, part of the psychoanalytic style.
It’s a tenable position. It is not at all within the field of what we can call the coherent, but, after all, we know a lot of things in the world that survive on that basis. It is part of what has always been done in a certain register, and it is not for nothing that I have described it as ‘propaganda’. This term has very specific origins in history and in the sociological structure. It is Propaganda fidei. It’s the name of a building somewhere in Rome where anyone can come and go. So, that’s what they do, and that’s what they have always done. The question is whether or not it is tenable where psychoanalysis is concerned.
Is psychoanalysis purely and simply a therapy, a drug, a plaster, a magical cure or indeed something that can ever be described as a cure? At first sight, why not? The only problem is that is certainly not what psychoanalysis is. We first have to admit that, if that is what it was, we would really have to ask why we force ourselves to put it on, because, of all plasters, this is one of the most fastidious to have to put up with. Despite that, if people do commit themselves to this hellish business of coming to see a guy three times a week for years, it must be because it is of some interest in itself. Using words you do not understand, such as ‘transference’, does not explain why it lasts.
We are just outside the door. So 1 really do have to begin at the beginning if I’m not to talk more sales patter or pretend I thought you knew something about psychoanalysis. Nothing 1 am saying here is new. Not only is it not new, it’s staring you in the face. Everyone quickly notices that everything that is said about psychoanalysis by way of explanation ad usum publicum is sales patter. No one can be in any doubt about that because, after a while, you can recognize sales patter when you hear it.