Against Lacanism II
A Correspondence between A. Green and S. Benvenuto

Published in Journal of European Psychoanalysis, No. 3-4, 1996-7.

 

Letter from André Green

 

Dear Sergio Benvenuto

 

I have received a copy of the Journal of European Psychoanalysis, number 2 (Fall 1995-Winter 1996), in which you have published our conversation.  I regret to say that I am not very happy with the result and I ask you to publish this letter in the next issue.

          First, let me remind you that when we decided to have an interview (there was no question of conversation at the time), we agreed that you would send me, before any final agreement for publication, a transcript of the tape for any modifications and eventual completions.  None of your promises were fulfilled.  Second, our exchange having taken place in French, I haven’t had any opportunity to control the correctness of the translation.  Thirdly, I haven’t received any proofs before printing, so I can object that I disagree totally with what you have published.

          There is no possible excuse for such journalistic practices as you cannot even argue that time limitations did not enable you to proceed as we had planned.  The note referring to the title states that the conversation took place on May 14, 1994, two and a half years before the issue of the journal.  I have many serious objections to the content of what has been printed.

          On many instances the translation is wrong.  For instance, on page 170, I did not say that a psychoanalyst must also deal with people “outside his field” as I was mentioning the analyst’s patients.

          On page 171 I could not have said that Bouvet was a clinical psychologist as he was a psychiatrist.  Neither could I have mistaken Wallon as a theoretician of alienation.  On the same page: “Lingu-hysteria”, or “lingui deli” could not have been my words as I don’t know them.

          On page 173, I could not have said that Conrad Stein left Lacan as he has never been anything else than a member of the Paris society to which I belong myself and never was a member of the institutions to which Lacan belonged.  In the same page also, I cannot have said that the problems connected with Ferenczi and Rank were confined to the institution as what I meant was that both of them remained in the institution.

          On page 180, I could not have said that René Major was an important analyst, and I have no responsibility in that sentence born either from your adding or from the translator’s mistake.

          On page 183, I could not have said that “the price Lacan paid was not going on beyond these limits”, as what I think is exactly the contrary, i.e. Lacan was disposed to pay any price to succeed in his enterprise of being recognized in the intellectual world.  I did not say, also, in the following paragraph, that his style of writing was excellent, I may have said that it was intriguing, striking, literarily fascinating, but surely not excellent.

          Most of all I am quite surprised about note 6 on page 179 where you take the liberty of interpreting that I made a slip of the tongue, which I see nowhere, as I was really meaning the “Christian interpretation of psychoanalytic theory” as the following sentence clearly indicates.  Moreover you say that you left uncorrected other slips of the tongue which emerged in the conversation.  You do not mention them but this proves your deliberate will to publish an unrevised and uncorrected version out of any control from me.

          On a more general level, in reading the conversation, I am struck by the fact that I have kept no memory of certain parts of your questions.  This may be due to a forgetting on my behalf but it could also be that you have modified your questions.  The result of this change is that I appear to the reader as someone who doesn’t answer objections raised from the partner of the conversation because he has no convincing replies. It is not my habit to leave questions unanswered.  It could also be that you took the liberty of cutting parts of my responses without my consent.  Anyhow, you can’t produce the evidence that your version was submitted to my approval as this is customary or prove that you have submitted the transcript of the tape for final agreement as we had decided.

          As I wish to reply to some of your observations, here are my answers to several of your questions:

          -Page 173- The split between Freud and Jung and Adler on one hand, and his disagreements with Ferenczi on the other hand, have not all the same meaning.  Jung and Adler disagreed on the interpretation of fundamental concepts of Freud’s theory and parted definitely from him.  Ferenczi never stopped to consider himself as a disciple of Freud.  He just proposed changes in the practice of interpretations in the cure and a different handling of the transference without leaving the Freudian movement.  His disagreement never prevented Freud from considering him as a major contributor of psychoanalysis.

- In the same page your gathering of Reich, Reik, Rank and Meltzer is a true melting pot.  We know that Reich at a certain moment became very disturbed and I am surprised that you do not consider that his technique of putting people in boxes letting the “orgone” operate was a sufficient justification of the decision to exclude him.  Reik was supported publicly by Freud in his conflict with the American Psychoanalytical Association due to bureaucratic rules which hold no more.  Masud Khan was suspended from his training capacities for having seduced one of his analysands and was excluded later on for expressing overtly anti-Semitic opinions.  Do you approve of this?  And finally Donald Meltzer was expelled because of a personal behaviour which seemed incompatible for the people of the British Society with their conception of the professional ethic.

          -Page 175- Again an amalgamation between Tausk’s, Ferenczi’s and Rank’s cases.  Freud thought that the homosexual fixation of Tausk to himself was too strong and refused to take him into treatment.  As for Ferenczi and Rank, he gave them the opportunity to expose their disagreements, opened a large discussion upon them and concluded in giving his own opinion, emphasizing the reasons of his opposition.  There were no exclusions in any of those cases.

          In the same page again there is confusion.  You seem to equate Lacan’s exploitation and manipulation of transference and other features of malpractice—you even say that it could be for the good of analysands that he behaved sadistically with them—and Freud’s faults.  You imply that there are no essential differences between Lacan’s behaviour and the fact that Freud fed the Rat Man (in 1910!) and analyzed his daughter.  Surely, as far as this last fact is concerned, it was a heavy mistake for which Freud had no excuse.  This cannot be compared with the constant and regular overtly cynical behaviour of Lacan with people who came to him to be analyzed and relieved of their suffering.  As far as the relationship between Heidegger’s Nazi sympathies and his philosophy is concerned, the question is still debated, but this is beyond the scope of our conversation.

          To end with, as you say that caricatures reveal more the truth than exact copies I daresay that your thought should be very truthful, as it is blatantly a caricature.  I leave you the responsibility of your opinion, confusing a satirical genre with the search for truth.  Reversing the argument of Lacan’s connections to Catholicism against me, you argue that I want philosophers to be towards psychoanalysis as theologians are to the Catholic Church.  I do not ask a blind obedience to a dogma, but only a sufficient accuracy to what is discussed as far as psychoanalysis is concerned.  The intellectuals that you have quoted, pretending that they promoted a dialogue with psychoanalysis, were in fact not always in good faith to it mistaking its true spirit.  Psychoanalysis has not benefited in any way from their contributions—I except of course Kristeva and Castoriadis who are practicing psychoanalysts of great value.  Most of the time it is not only a matter of agreement or disagreement, praise or criticism, which is in question but a clear expression of a total misunderstanding of what psychoanalysis is in effect.  I am afraid that our conversation enhanced by your questions has not helped to clarify the nature of the relationship of psychoanalysis to the intelligentsia which is very ambiguous.

          I think you will agree about the necessity to publish these corrections and clarifications to inform the reader properly.

 

                                             Sincerely Yours

 

                         André Green                         

 

Paris, October 5, 1996

 

 

Response by Sergio Benvenuto to André Green

 

 

           I respond to your letter published above.  The English draft of our conversation or interview was, in fact, sent to you in July of 1995, but it appears that you never received it—unfortunately, postal mishaps are not uncommon between Italy and France (the reasons for which you were not able to edit this conversation were discussed, and I believe clarified, through our private correspondence.)  Nevertheless, we regret very much that this happened.

          Having said this, and taking into account your understandable irritation at not having been able to improve the translation of your text, the majority of your criticisms do not appear to me to have a serious foundation.  In the second part of my letter I will respond, point by point, to your objections to the translation, and I will demonstrate how—apart from two or three instances—the translator made legitimate choices based on a somewhat ambiguous original.

          Let me cite but two examples.  Your “Bouvet, un clinicien” was interpreted by the translator as “clinical psychologist” (p. 171 of the text of our conversation) rather than “psychiatrist”, because in French it sounds a bit strange to use “un clinicien” to say “un psychiatre”.  Later, you spoke of René Major as “…un psychanalyste, qui n’est pas n’importe lequel…”, a sentence which probably held a clue, although one cannot fault the translator for having missed it, and to have rendered it as “an important analyst” (p. 180).  Some subsequent statements you made regarding Major were cut as they were deemed too polemical; but the translator, who had read in the original your criticisms against Major which were later cut, grasped that, in any case, Major was for you important: otherwise, why publicly criticize him so harshly?

          However, even if all your criticisms of the translation were justified, the points you raise are marginal and do not in any way compromise the sense of what you said.  As to your insinuation that parts of your responses had been cut, in truth we cut two single sections: your references to Major, and a lengthy argumentation against Heidegger’s thought, which was extraneous to the topic of our conversation.

          One must ask in the first place why our conversation took on this boxing-match style, a style which you continued in your letter.  It certainly cannot be because I am a Lacanian, which I am not (my paper, “Lacan’s Dream”, in that same issue, explains what I believe are the limits of the Lacanian approach), or because I belong to some rival psychoanalytic society, which I do not.  The polemical vein thus owes to a question of style in the broadest sense.  If it is true, as Buffon said, that le style c’est l’homme, in certain cases it is true that le style c’est la chose même, style is the thing itself.  For me, the thing was not to defend Lacan at any cost—I have never justified Lacan for his somewhat loose clinical practice—but to reject your manner of dealing with a body of thought which, for better or worse, went far beyond psychoanalysis, and far beyond France.

          To dismiss Lacan because he was sadistic with his patients, and because his entire theory served to seduce the Parisian intelligentsia—which appears to be the gist of your thesis—looks quite shallow and does not do justice to the history of psychoanalysis.  Because Lacan was not the only one to take liberties both with his practice and with theory; a large part of psychoanalysis’ “founding fathers” did so.  I will cite later some examples with which, I am sure, you are familiar.

          In my opinion, a bellicose attitude in a psychoanalyst—be it against adversaries within or without—ends up by discrediting psychoanalysis.  Anyone who reads our conversation can discern that you attack anyone, inside or outside psychoanalysis, who either does not accept, or tries to go beyond, what for you is the Canon: a clinical-theoretical ruling elite dominated above all by Freud, M. Klein, Winnicott and Bion.

          You respond with disdain to the often pointed criticisms against psychoanalysis—even from first-rate minds, ranging from Karl Kraus to Foucault, from Wittgenstein to Popper.  And here lies a difference between you and Lacan: Lacan, at least, sought always to break the “splendid isolation” of psychoanalysis by borrowing from other theories and disciplines what might be useful to psychoanalysis, paying no heed to the fact that the authors of those very theories and disciplines were often hostile to psychoanalysis itself.  For example, despite Claude Lévi-Strauss’ basic criticisms of psychoanalysis, Lacan nevertheless felt that the structural analysis Lévi-Strauss applied in cultural anthropology could greatly contribute to the development of psychoanalysis.  And, because he didn’t reject outright cognitivism, Lacan even sought out Chomsky.  Lacan, despite his defects, had a rather open, tolerant attitude, neither sectarian nor “triumphalistic”.

          I think that your psychoanalytic triumphalism makes you undervalue the crisis that psychoanalysis is undergoing today.  Psychoanalysis is the object of an unprecedented concentric attack from many sides, but what is significant is that this crisis is proclaimed not by the cognitivists and some philosophers, but by the analysts themselves, who bemoan their dwindling clientele and their dropping prestige.  I believe then that psychoanalysis can survive into the next century only if it can bring back into discussion many of its own certainties, open itself to dialogue—even with “internal dissidents”—and, above all, re-discover a little self-irony.

 

*     *     *

 

Replying to your observations:

Page 173: You are correct, Ferenczi never explicitly broke with Freud—even because Freud always had a particular soft spot for him.  Nonetheless, Ferenczi for a long period was maligned by the psychoanalytic community, and his writings willfully ignored (Ernest Jones convinced many that Ferenczi in his last years was psychotic).  Freud forgave deviations in Ferenczi that he could not tolerate in others.  Ferenczi had confided in him for years about his disconcerting relationships with his patients-lovers, Gizella and Elma Palos[1].  Freud did not react by expelling Ferenczi from the Psychoanalytic Society; on the contrary, his affection for Ferenczi gave him for years certain complicity.  If we were to apply to Ferenczi the same criteria you apply to Lacan—that is, that technical and deontological flaws discredit even an analyst’s theoretical contributions—then Ferenczi ought to be denied a role in the development of psychoanalysis.  Not even you could accept such a conclusion.

 

Page 173, continuing – Reich, Reik, Masud Khan and Meltzer were either expelled from (even if for different reasons) or never admitted to (in Reik’s case) the analytic IPA institutions.  I mentioned them simply in response to your preceding statement that after 1912 there were no further irreparable breaks in the analytic institution.  You seem to have missed their common feature.  For you, it is important to separate what is the “good” (Reik) from the “bad” (Reich and Masud Khan), or even the “so-so” (if I understand correctly, you give Meltzer the benefit of the doubt).  My citing them was not an attempt to justify them, but to simply demonstrate that some well-known analysts had been dismissed from their Association.  This explains why at times you have the impression of not responding (in the printed conversation) to my questions; you evidently did not grasp them, which may have been my fault.

          You seem to want to say: “but all these expulsions resulted from a lack of professional ethics and not from serious theoretical disagreements”—a useful fable for the public image that analytic societies tend to give of themselves.  One suspects that behind many expulsions for “personal behavior” or “theoretical differences” lie group power struggles and personality conflicts.  Was Freud and Jung’s conflict only theoretical, or was it a conflict of leadership and personalities? (Freud was not bothered by Binswanger’s “deviations” and sought to bring into his “tribe” people with quite different thinking, such as Jelgerma, Ophuijsen or Groddeck),

And were not the famous “Anna Freud-Melanie Klein Controversies” above all a personal conflict and a play for power between Mitteleuropean ladies?  If Jung’s undervaluing of sexuality was sufficient reason for expelling him from the Society, why was it not for many others—starting with Winnicott, as you well know?  Orthodox theory may not insist on “will for power,” but this is no excuse to be blind to the personality and power conflicts hidden behind the “theoretical” or “deontological” screens.

 

Page 175‑I mentioned Tausk, Ferenczi and Rank together because of their dramatic, one might say morbid, relationships with the Maître figure which Freud personified, and not because of their eventual conflicts with the institution, which is what you chose to read.

          Considering Paul Roazen’s book[2] on Tausk and Freud, your manner of reducing this complex relationship between them to Tausk’s homosexual fixation on Freud seems rather unsatisfying[3].  Roazen highlighted rather Freud’s jealousy (Tausk had been the lover of Lou Andreas Salomé, whom Freud greatly admired), and his fear at being faced with a “too gifted” disciple.  Here is a lethal consequence of Freud’s attitude as maître.

          For you, it is essential to oppose the “good Freud” with the “bad Lacan”, in keeping with the official divide still reigning in many analytic societies.  Yet historians have provided us with many details on Freud’s attitudes which would have warranted his expulsion from the IPA today.  Besides his complicity in Ferenczi’s affairs, I could also mention his hypocrisy in the Jung-Spielrein affaire.[4]

          And, between 1903 and 1906, did not Freud himself write some compromising letters to his patient Anna von Vest?  Today, what would an IPA analyst say of Freud’s attitude towards his analysands Hilda Doolittle[5], Joseph Wortis[6] and the Brunswick family[7]?  As it is by now known, Freud often disregarded his own advice regarding professional technique.

          And if we jump from Freud to the Freudians, one could write a whole book on the irregularities uncovered, which are no less serious than those you ascribe to Lacan[8].  Freud was not the only one to analyze his daughter, as it was a common practice among first-generation analysts, including Abraham[9] and M. Klein.  The latter, being short of child patients, published the results of her son Erich’s analysis without revealing to the reader who he was[10].  All the children analyzed by Klein were, at least in the first phase, children of her English colleagues, people with whom she had close ties.  Klein even proposed to Winnicott (whom she supervised between 1935 and 1940) that she supervise his analysis of her son Erich—a proposal which Winnicott had the good sense to refuse[11].  One of the probable reasons for the dramatic hysterical climate in the British Psychoanalytic Association between the 1930s and 1950s was precisely this deplorable “promiscuity” in the relationships among its members: they mixed friendships with analytic and scientific relationships.

          My insistence on these anecdotes is neither to justify all these deontological “crimes”, nor to discredit psychoanalysts in general.  I am addressing not the analyst-policeman or the analyst-lawyer, but simply the analyst.  All these infractions should be viewed as symptoms of a problem in the classic analytic relationship—a problem recognized by many sensitive analysts who speak ever more frequently of a “crisis of psychoanalysis”.  You believe that the pantheon of Freud-Klein-Winnicott-Bion is enough to keep psychoanalysis going.  I have my doubts.

          However, all these technical or ethical flaws are, in themselves, insufficient motives for refuting the theoretical or clinical contributions made by all these analysts.  Is Freud’s thought tarnished by his unacceptable behavior in the cases above mentioned?  Does Masud Khan’s supposed anti-Semitism—like that of Shakespeare, Ezra Pound, and many other great creative spirits, unfortunately—refute his perceptive studies on perversions?  Is the rightist conservatism or anti-Semitism, as the case may be, of Heidegger, Gottlieb Frege, Karl Schmitt or Ernst Jünger sufficient reason to deny their thought any relevance?  The coincidence which you presuppose between political choices, ethical behavior and intellectual contributions is a form of thinking that Americans have called political correctness.  Instead, one of the fundamental corollaries of psychoanalysis is that the ethical-political Ego will never be able to drain the Zuydersee (the Es and intellectual creativity) even when its only means of expression is through illicit acts, or infringing on traditional rules.

 

*      *      *

 

Let us take a look at some of your comments about the translation.

 

Page 170‑You are correct, the psychoanalyst’s patients are not “outside his field” (after all, they are in analysis).  But from the context here a reader would recognize that what you are saying is that, unlike philosophers who only deal with colleagues, the analyst deals above all with people from all walks of life.

 

Page 171‑You are correct, the translation is unclear.  It should have read: “Lacan flirted with the theories of alienation (especially that of Hegel) and later with the theories of Wallon.”

 

“Lingu-hysteria” and “lingui deli” are simply two possible translations of the Lacanian neologism “linguisterie” which you used.  It seemed to the translator that Lacan wished to make a pun between “lingu-hystérie” and its assonances, “charcu-terie”, “pâtiss-erie” or “bouch-erie” (what in American would be “deli shop”).

 

Page 173‑You said: “Piera Aulagnier, Perrier (…), Valabréga, plus les gens qui, du côté de ma Société, également ont été intéressés par lui, comme Conrad Stein et moi-même, pour prendre les deux qui se sont manifestés le plus directement, nous tous l’avons quitté”.  You are correct, the editor, in compressing the syntax, eliminated the difference between the “anciens élêves” and “ceux qui ont été intéréssés par lui”; but your “nous tous l’avons quitté” made Stein’s relationship with Lacan seem far tighter than it actually was.  You placed Stein in the same list with Aulagnier, Perrier, Valabréga and yourself.

 

Page 179‑You said: “…en fait, ce qu’on me semble pas vouloir prendre en considération c’est le côté profondément théologique et chrétien de la théorie psychanalytique; c’est une réécriture chrétienne de la psychanalyse…”  I cannot believe that you would really chastise Lacan for not recognizing the theological and Christian aspects of psychoanalysis—which is why I interpreted it as a slip of the tongue.  If the translation is faulty, it is in having attributed the “ne pas vouloir prendre en considération” (not wanting to take into consideration) to Lacan, while from the context you were rather seemingly referring to intellectuals, “qui ne veulent pas prendre en considération le côté profondément théologique et chrétien de la théorie de Lacan” (who do not want to take into consideration the deeply theological and Christian aspect of Lacan’s theory).  Such an interpretation could give more coherence to your words.

 

Page 183‑You said: “..on la paye du prix du désir de séduire, et de dire aux intellectuels, même si on les secoue, même si on leur dit ‘mais enfin, vous avez un inconscient’ (…), il y a quand même des frontières à ne pas dépasser; et donc le prix qu’on la paye, le prix de Lacan, ça a été celui d’une extraordinaire séduction intellectuelle”.  In this case, the translation is correct: intellectuals do not wish psychoanalysts to cross certain boundaries (such as revealing that even intellectuals have sexual drives, I imagine) and for this reason Lacan did not cross them, thus becoming, for the intellectuals, a star.

 

Page 183‑“Because its style of writing is excellent” is a translation of your “c’est une pensée aussi qui a une qualité d’écriture”, a patois parisien expression which has no precise equivalent in English.  Besides, you had previously said, when speaking of Lacan’s work, that, “indéniablement c’est mieux écrit, c’est mieux pensé que dans la plupart des écrits psychanalytiques”.

 

          Nowhere did I say that there were yet other slips of the tongue by you, other than those noted in the footnotes (that is, in only two places).

 

*     *     *

 

          Freud, in Group Psychology and Analysis of the Ego, described two groups (Massen), the church and the army, which for him were the paradigm of what analysis ought not to be.  And yet, psychoanalytic societies have functioned more as churches and armies than as the analytic societies dreamt of by some analysts.  Personally, I think that analysts today need more humility than discipline.  This army or church mentality is exactly the opposite of the unbiased dialogue which our Journal aims for: a dialogue between different analytic trends, even those outside the “Freudian field”, a rejection of any trend or school sectarianism, and a serious and respectful response to significant criticisms of psychoanalysis.  My impression is that here lies the real point of contention between you and me—and not in some marginal comments on translating and editing.

 

Rome, November 1996

 



           [1]Freud knew that Ferenczi had taken into analysis (around 1909) his lover, Gizella Palos, at that time still married.  In 1911, Ferenczi wrote Freud that he had taken into analysis even her daughter, Elma, and shortly afterwards wrote again that he had fallen in love with Elma and wanted to marry her.  Freud himself took Elma into analysis and, in December 1911, committed a violation that today would have him expelled from the IPA: unbeknownst to Ferenczi, he informed Gizella of the continuing relationship between her lover and her daughter.  In March 1912, Freud interrupted Elma’s analysis, and she returned for a brief period to Ferenczi’s couch.  Ferenczi then convinced his younger brother to marry Elma’s sister, Magda.  In 1919, he himself finally married Gizella.  See: Ernst Falzeder & André Haynal, “Heilung durch Liebe?”, Jahrbuch Psychoanal., 1989, 24, pp. 109-127; André Haynal, Freud, Ferenczi, Balint e la questione della tecnica (Turin: Centro Scientifico Editore, 1990); H. Sebastian Krutzenbichler, Hans Essers, Muss denn Liebe Sünde sein?  Ueber das Begehren des Analytikers (Freiburg i.Br.: Kore, 1991), pp. 41-50.

           [2]Paul Roazen, Brother Animal: The Story of Freud and Tausk (Penguin Books, 1970).

[3]Freud not only refused to take Tausk into analysis (Freud sent him to one of his less experienced students at that time, Helen Deutsch), but he then obliged Deutsch to interrupt Tausk’s analysis, which the latter rightly interpreted as his de facto expulsion from the psychoanalytic circle.  He would afterwards commit suicide.

 

[4]See Aldo Carotenuto, A Secret Symmetry. Sabina Spielrein between Jung and Freud (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984.) See Johannes Cremerius, Preface to Aldo Carotenuto, Tagebuch einer heimlichen Symmetrie (Freiburg: Kore, 1986.)

 

[5]Hilda Doolittle, Signs on the Wall, 1956.

          

[6]Joseph Wortis, Fragments of an Analysis with Freud (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1954.)

 

[7]On the relationships between Freud, Ruth, Marck and David Brunswick, see Paul Roazen, “Freud’s Patients”, in Toby Gelfand and John Kerr, eds., Freud and the History of Psychoanalysis (Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press, 1992), and Encountering Freud (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1990.)

[8] As for the norm preventing sexual contacts between doctors and patients, we could compile a long list of noted “sinners”.  To limit ourselves to the most famous ones: August Aichorn, René Allendy, Freida Fromm-Reichmann, Ernest Jones, Sandor Rado, Otto Rank and Harald Schultz-Henke.  On this point, see H. Sebastian Krutzenbichler and Hans Essers, cit. supra n. 1.

 

[9]See Little Hilda: Daydreams and a Symptom in a Seven-Year Old Girl, IRP, XVII, 1974, pt. 1, pp. 5-14.

 

[10]For what I am discussing here regarding Melanie Klein, see Phyllis Grosskurth, Melanie Klein. Her World and Her Work (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1987,) especially chapters 5, 8, 11, 17.

 

[11]The relationship between Paula Heimann and Klein was even more botched and “perverse” (in fact, it led to theirsplit).  Heimann was already a great friend of Klein and her daughter, Melitta, when she entered into analysis with Klein in 1934.

Published by I.S.A.P. - ISSN 2284-1059