2 min read

Miller's The Unconscious & the Speaking Body

I’ve been thinking about a bunch: How is the practice of psychoanalysis today different than it was in the past?

I’ve been thinking about a bunch: How is the practice of psychoanalysis today different than it was in the past?

One of the things that I’ve been reading as I consider this question is is Jacques-Alain Miller’s "The Unconscious and the Speaking Body,” which is a presentation that Miller gave in 2016.

Here are some quotes from what Miller wrote/said:

Psychoanalysis is changing. This is not a desire, but a fact.
…with certain lightning bolts that come shooting through the dark clouds of Lacan's remarks, he manages to indicate a depth that instructs us as to what psychoanalysis is becoming, and which no longer entirely conforms to what one reckoned it to be.

Right off the bat, Miller is saying that Lacan understood something very important about psychoanalysis, something that the IPA either repressed or disavowed: the time/place that Freud created psychoanalysis from is no longer the time/place the space that the subjects of today occupy. Lacan was not interested in conforming to doing psychoanalysis in a particular way just because “that is always the way it has been done.” No! Lacan was interested in what psychoanalysis was becoming, what it could be, how it was useful as a clinical practice to those who are alive now.

Miller elaborates on this more when he says,

…we cannot fail to see that there has been a break, when Freud invented psychoanalysis under the aegis, as it were, of the reign of Queen Victoria, a paragon of the suppression of sexuality, whereas the twenty-first century is seeing the vast spread of what is called "porno", which amounts to coitus on show in a spectacle that is accessible to anyone on the web by means of a simple click of the mouse. From Victoria to porno, we have not only passed from prohibition to permission. […] This clinic of pornography belongs to the twenty-first century.

In the Victorian era, when Freud started to create psychoanalysis, people were very prohibited. They were prohibited in who they dressed, spoke, and behaved. Compliance with a castrating Name-of-the-Father that was ruthless in the ways it enforced the desire of the Other. During the reign of Victoria, people were forced to live in a rigid class system, if you were a servant and you said you wanted to be something more people would respond by saying, “You shut up you! You’re a servant, and you best learn to like that, because a servant is the best you can hope to be!”

Today we live in a society where people are encouraged to “dream big,” or “love like you’ve never been hurt,” or “become the master of your destiny.” In short: in a society that demands that we give our selves permission to be happy (whatever that means).

We also live in a world where there are endless forms of titillation, where we can anesthetize ourselves from unwelcome thoughts and feelings via any number of distracting forms of amusement (pornography, which Miller references, being one such form of amusement).

Most of the ways we amuse ourselves now have to do with looking into a screen of some sort. We suffer from the symptom of being too gratified by technology.

It is a symptom of the empire of technology that now extends its reign over the most diverse civilizations across the globe, even the most restive ones. We should not surrender our arms faced with this symptom, or others from the same source. They require interpretation from psychoanalysis.

One of the effects of everything being permissible, and all of a person’s desire being gratified, is a desire for what Freud called a “primal father” figure who can and will prevent people from enjoying too much. I believe we see this in the rise of reactionary right-wing political figures and overly restrictive left-wing woker-than-thou speech police.

There is much more in this that I find interesting, but I’ll save that for another time.