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Larivière - The Analyst as Novelist

The Analyst as Novelist

  by Michael Larivière, Ph.D.


IFPE Conference

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

October 2005



   In his Studien über Hysterie, in 1895, Freud tells us of his surprise at realizing that his Krankengeschichten, his “patient histories”, or “case presentations”, read like novels (Novellen) and that they lacked both the seriousness and rigor of scientific works (Wissenschaftlichkeit).


   What he was beginning to realize was that psychoanalysis would be made possible by a shift, a displacement, a transfer(ence) towards a more poetic or novelistic genre. As Michel de Certeau suggests, the psychoanalytic conversion was a conversion to the “literary”. This orientation of Freud’s work became increasingly evident as time went by, culminating with Der Mann Moses, his last book, published in 1939, explicitly designated as a “novel”. It is as if Freud had been caught unawares by his own discovery. He had been nourished by the scientific Aufklärung of his time but his discovery had brought him back to the “mother earth”, the Muttererde he had written about to Arnold Zweig in a letter dated 8.V.1932: Palestine, says Freud, had only ever given birth to “religions and sacred extravagances”. The freudian discourse can indeed be seen as the reintroduction of fiction in the realm of science.


   The novelistic genre favoured by Freud informs the writing of theory, it remodels the psychiatric body of knowledge. This in turn informs the analyst’s take on what he hears and sees. Indeed, as Jacques Lacan says – and I am quoting this from memory – the signifying utterance in analytical discourse is given a reading other than what it means to say. For, as Paul de Man very rightly reminds us, we have no choice but to acknowledge that it is quite impossible to know what exactly language might be up to, the consequence of this being that psychoanalysis can never be a discourse of masterly competence – something analysts by and large tend to forget. Psychoanalysis might be understood as the fall of psychology (or of things “psychological”) within the realm of Literature and its specific logic and rhetoric. In precipitating such a fall, Freud dragged authority as such into a scene it cannot ever hope to master. The truth that is brought into play in analysis is not of the objective kind. It belongs to neither one of the interlocutors: it crops up, and that is always a very strange event, between them. How then is one to account for the peculiar structure of such an event? How to present it? Analysts, as did Freud, write Krankengeschichten, “case presentations”. The necessity of such presentations is taken for granted by most. I would like to suggest that writing and publishing such presentations is not so straightforward a procedure. I would like to suggest we may not be as aware of what we are doing as we may think when we write and publish them. Such presentations may not be the window through which we make it possible for others to behold and perceive the “reality” of analysis, the window through which that “reality” can indeed reach our grasp, enter our consciousness. What we tend to forget is that in presenting our cases we involve psychoanalysis in the scene of writing, thus generating implications between writing and the actual practice of psychoanalysis. What we tend to forget, in other words, are the ways in which the two domains do indeed implicate each other, each finding itself enlightened, informed, but also affected, displaced by the other. As Shoshana Felman says, “from the very beginning, indeed, Literature has been for psychoanalysis not only a contiguous field of external verification in which to test its hypotheses and to confirm its findings, but also the constitutive texture of its conceptual framework, of its theoretical body. The key concepts of psychoanalysis are references to Literature, using literary “proper” names – names of fictional characters (Oedipus complex, Narcissism) or of historical authors (masochism, sadism). Literature, in other words, is the language which psychoanalysis uses in order to speak of itself, in order to name itself. Literature is therefore not simply outside psychoanalysis, since it motivates and inhabits the very names of its concepts, since it is the inherent reference by which psychoanalysis names its findings.” (Yale French Studies, 55/56, 1977, p.9)


   Hence I ask: can psychoanalysis, that which by convention we so call (but without necessarily knowing what it is exactly we are so naming), ever as such be presented? Where, supposing that this be possible, is psychoanalysis ever presented? Or does it even present itself? Where, in other words, outside the isolated enclosures in which it is supposed to be practised, does it let itself be seen – in other words identified? Such are the questions that, it would seem, can only forever remain open.


   What is it that we hope to do in presenting the stories of those we take care or charge of, that we receive and sometimes even welcome, for whom we provide a space? What is it that we hope to make tangible or, at least, more or less clear? And why? And for whom? Who are these presentations intended for? Analysts have never ceased to claim, for themselves as well as for psychoanalysis, at once the impossible necessity and the necessary impossibility of the position they insist upon trying to hold. Might it be that analysts unwittingly hope that the actual writing of these stories will let something new come to the surface, something that would otherwise have remained encrypted, encysted, sealed or concealed in the talking cure it originates from and reinvents? Might it be that analysts unwittingly hope that something can take place, can find its place in or with these presentations, something which hadn’t or couldn’t have taken place in the “experience” or “process” their writing revisits? What is it that is presented under the guise of a “case”? Who presents himself, who is presented? And to whom? And for whom? And why? With a view to what? The aim obviously can’t be to restore the coherence the story had lost. And it can’t be expected that an idiom will reveal its secret through the writing of the story. And so much the better.


   Question: is the truth brought to the fore in or by the presentation the same as that produced (revealed?) by the said talking cure? Might psychoanalysis, in or with the text it produces, be looking for what it had lost sight of in the space or on the scene of its exercise “proper”? We must not forget: in order to present its case, psychoanalysis inevitably refers to an other discourse, it inevitably moves onto a scene where the case “itself” no longer has anything to say, where the analyst takes everything back in hand, everything that is his as well as the patient’s, everything that pertains to the case, in order to set himself, so to speak, on the way towards his idiom. The paradox is that as he takes everything back in hand, the analyst changes places: he becomes the analysand, trying to say it all, all he can, all that comes to his mind thanks to the other, his “case”, which he pretends to be presenting while in actual fact presenting himself – but to whom? Before whom? Perhaps to and before the Analyst, who is nothing but an imaginary figure of the Other.




   It is virtually impossible, I suggested earlier, to know what language is up to. As an analyst, I contend that it is nevertheless possible for people to do something for themselves, and for each other, with language. This is obviously a stance informed by my frequentation of Lacan’s work, which suggests that we are subjects captured and tortured by language. But it is even more profoundly informed by my frequentation of the work of people such as Walter Benjamin, Edmond Jabès or Jacques Derrida – to name only a few. In other words, I find myself in complete accord with Adam Phillips: I, too, indeed learned far more about psychoanalysis from people who never mentioned it, than I did from psychoanalytic “teachers” who mentioned nothing else. It is from those who taught me to read that I learned how to listen. And so, yes, I do firmly believe that psychoanalysis can be no more and no less than the language in which it is represented (cf. Promises, Promises, p.4) This is something all analysts agree upon – whether or not they know it. Indeed, it is because they know that analysis is the language in which it is represented that some give in to the slavish quest for academic respectability; that others are incapable of writing and talking about what they do in clear, spare and crystalline language and can’t resist elaborating abstruse abstractions, confusing sophistication of thought with arcane, pompous jabber; and that others still enchant us with inventiveness, elegance and true depth of thought.


   As for case presentations, a good number of Freud scholars hold them to be highly questionable. At best, these presentations would merely be “retrodictions”, predicting and producing what they pretend to be describing, “performing” what they pretend to be observing. Furthermore, they hold it against Freud to have falsified, invented, lied, cheated in order to plead his own cause. This is a serious issue, which I have no time here to examine with the patience it would require. Suffice it to say that if some of these scholars’ objections and questions are indeed relevant and that analysts should address them accordingly, most of them, even if logically rigorous are without relevance with regards either to analytical theory or practice and reveal a total ignorance of what actually takes place in analysis. Finally, what these scholars seem or feign to ignore is that no analyst worthy of the name would contest what Joyce McDougall, for example, forcefully and clearly stated: our concepts, hypotheses, theoretical elaborations are, for the most part, unprovable. So, all Karl Popper did, as the French and the Germans say, was to break down an already open door.




   An avid reader of Shakespeare, Freud used language much in the same way as did the Bard himself: as George Steiner says, “in a condition of total possibility” (Language and Silence, p.232). He urged us to look not at what language can do for us but at what it inevitably does to us. And what it does to us is that it alienates us, from ourselves as well as from “reality”: there is no “self”, no “reality”, in the human sense of the word, outside language – outside, if you will, poetic construction. All I mean to say here is that “reality” and “self” are made human, are integrated in the human fabric we inhabit, through language (or silence) – if only through our acknowledging its enigmatic nature, at times its meaninglessness.

   Freud invented psychoanalysis largely through reading. And George Steiner is right: to read well is to take great risks; it is to make vulnerable our identity, our self-possession. This, unfortunately for those who seek their help, is something many analysts prefer to ignore.


Dr. Larivière was born in Montreal, Canada. He moved to France in 1971 to study Philosophy and eventually earned doctoral degrees in Philosophy, Psychology, and French Literature. He has met and worked with many scholars including Derrida, Barthes, Lacan, Lyotard and Dolto. Dr. Larivière speaks (and works) in four languages: English, French, Italian and German. Currently, his practice is in France and he has lead seminars internationally in Italy, Canada, United States and Switzerland.


Dr. Larivière may be contacted at:

7A Rue Turenne, 67000 Strassbourg, FRANCE