LETTERS. Letter from Raymond Barglow to Sergio Benvenuto

Dear Sergio Benvenuto,

Here are a few of my impressions of your essay “Eyes Wide Shut. Is Psychoanalysis in Touch with the Real” (Journal of European Psychoanalysis, nn. 8-9, 1999, pp. 43-66). It seems to me that you’ve presented a cornucopia of ideas, quite intriguing but insufficiently organized, articulated, and argued for.

[The quotations in italics are taken from Eyes Wide Shut]

1 – “Éthe Kleinian tradition is based on an alleged description of inner processes and their relationship with the outside worldÑwhich clashed immediately with the PLA. English psycho-analysis and analytic philosophy (despite the significant homonymy) went off in completely diverging directions.” (p. 46)

I don’t follow this at all. Wittgenstein’s private language argument tries to show only that experience of any kind stands in need of public criteria. The Kleinian tradition, to my knowledge, does not deny this. I see no clash here, certainly not an “immediate” clash. The Kleinian can admit that the child’s subjective states manifest themselves in all kinds of publicly observable ways. Regarding your statement about “completely diverging directions”Ñagain, I don’t grasp this. One could equally well argue that English psychoanalysis and analytic philosophy went in the same direction, by trying to incorporate the advances and methods of natural science.


* * 

2 – “The analyst and her analysands find themselves in a position similar to that of Foster after her experienceÑboth are convinced of having touched something real in their relationship, a real of the heart, but they do not know how to demonstrate it publicly to those outside this “relationship of the hearts.” In fact, despite all the well-argued challenges by Popper, Eysenck, Grünbaum and Bouveresse on the scientific reliability of psychoanalysis, the analyst is entrenched behind the ineffability of what she haughtily calls “my clinical experience”. When, during an interview with Castoriadis, we spoke about Grünbaum, he told me clearly: “I would like to invoke an authoritative argument against him: I have a practice and daily experience which he does not! If you believe me, fine; and if you don’t believe me, then don’t believe me.” Which is the fideistic argument par excellence: you will have access to my knowledge only if you become like me. Just like Pascal who, when asked for proof in order to have faith, said: “Come to church and pray, and you will believe!” It is the rite which founds faith, and not viceversa . But, apart from Castoriadis, private practice shows to the analyst something which for him is incontrovertible: that certain interpretations or constructions provoke in nearly every subject a strong feeling of evidence.” (p. 47)

Object relations psychology and psychoanalysis (like most other traditional forms of psychoanalysis) takes itself to be validated partly by empirical research, most notably scientific research into child psychology. It by no means takes the analyst’s reports as unshakeable evidence. Castoriadis is hardly the model here. Moreover, even the traditional view that you are calling into question here relies upon affirmation of an interpretation by the analysand as well as by analyst.


* * 

3 – “Science today constructs itself without Cartesian suppositions: it starts not from what is certain, but only by degrees of the probability of something publicly controvertible (to state a fact has nothing to do with certainty: it is only a public game, a kind of village fair). Modern science is not Cartesian, it is rather Pascalian, based on probability calculus. The only certainties are perhaps mathematical ones, which however tell nothing of the contingent world in which we live . The PLA is an exquisitely anti-Cartesian argument: the certainty which stems from the perception of ourselves as thinking and/or desiring subjects does not constitute any objective knowledge, not even on the aforementioned subjects.” (p. 49)

Do you really mean to say that scientific facts and hypotheses are “only a public game, a kind of village fair”? Is the citric acid cycle (Krebs, the process whose oxidative metabolism converts the food we eat into usable energy) only a convention of this kind? If so, our bodies keep on functioning on an extraordinarily arbitrary basis! I hope that my physiological functioning won’t cease when the village fair ends and the peasants painted by Bruegel go home to rest. In biochemistry, the probability calculus plays a minor role, at most. Biochemical truths are not mathematical certainties, nor is truth in other scientific domains. Wittgenstein’s private language argument has no relevance that I can discern to most claims about subjectivity, including Descartes’ cogito. In particular, it does not tell against the claim that we have objective knowledge about our experiences or subjectivity.


* * 

4 – “Others deny that metapsychologyÑmeaning the construction of explicative theories, the statement of universal laws, like in physicsÑcounts in psychoanalysis, it being rather an historical science. The psychoanalytic explanatory theory would be at most a fiction, simply to avoid losing oneself in the practice.” (p. 51)

I don’t follow. You seem to be assuming that “historical science = fiction”. What reason do you have for making this assumption?


* * 

5 – “For Grünbaum the only possible proof of psychoanalysis is its therapeutic impact” (p. 54)

I doubt that this is right. I haven’t read Grünbaum in a long time, but he is a pretty smart guy and would be unlikely to say something that seems so obviously mistaken. Can you tell me where Grunbaum says this?


* * 

6 – “Even if the analyst were not to interpret explicitly, the patient certainly would: as less naive analysts admit, patients read the mind of the analyst, and behave accordingly. In the end, there is nothing which is really objective.
Jacques-Alain Miller, who proposes himself as Lacan’s heir, writes: “the era of interpretation is over” ; that is, “interpretation will never be what it has been. The era of interpretation, in which Freud shook up the universal discourse through interpretation, is over” 
(p. 55).

I have no idea what Miller is talking about here. I find the transition to Miller incomprehensible, in any event. Miller appears to be talking about some kind of historical transition but it’s opaque to me what he has in mind. If what Miller says here has a bearing upon what you say about objectivity, this needs to be explained.


* * 

7 – “While prestigious scientific journals are open to contributions of any leaning (as long as they are in accordance with certain methodological standards accepted by all), the psychoanalytic journals are rigorously separated into schools, each with its own Bildung. The perpetual dissent, the chronic lack of consensus, constitutes at once the vitality and the limit of psychoanalysis.” (p. 60)

This isn’t true, in my experience. Consider: Object relations psychoanalysis, attachment theory, and Kohutian analysis. These traditions, which I would estimate are predominant worldwide, communicate a lot with one another. And the first two draw upon substantial empirical research. I don’t get the impression at all of “perpetual dissent, the chronic lack of consensus” that you talk about.


* * 

8 – “If analysis is the fruit of hermeneutic grace, what then distinguishes it from any other form of ideological, philosophical, religious, artistic or moral interpretation? Not that these interpretations are contemptible, but manyÑmyself includedÑhad hoped that psychoanalysis might glean a different real than that perceived by art, political ethics or even eventually by religion. If the analyst recognizes himself only as a hermeneutist, this does not make him a charlatan, but he certainly does lose that neutrality which constituted the ethical attraction of the Freudian game: it does mean then that he becomes a charismatic leader who tends to convert his analysand to his reconstruction.” (p. 60-1)

You seem to assume that hermeneutics cannot be objective, that reconstruction/interpretation cannot be an enterprise that results in knowledge. Doesn’t this conclusion need to be argued for?


* * 

9 – “An hermeneutic approach in fact flows into an historicist nihilism: every conception which affirms itself historically is true.” (p. 62)

I do not follow this.

Raymond Barglow

Share This Article

European Journal of Psychoanalysis