The Invention of Oneself
(Self-Portrait of an Other)
by Michael Larivière, Ph.D.,
“All families invent their parents and children, give each of them a story, character, fate, and even a language.”
Edward W. Said
Where to begin?
Where to begin with oneself?
Where, in other words, do I begin?
It is the question every analysand who couldn’t avoid becoming an analyst never ceases to ask: where do analysts come from? where do I come from? So, inevitably, the question was put to me. Indeed, asking me to say something about my training, my practice, the cultural and institutional context in which both took --- and still are taking --- place was a way of asking me where, as an analyst, I came from. Since the object of psychoanalysis is the unconscious, i.e. the infantile and the sexual, the question of its own unconscious should, indeed, be returned: in what ways are the sexual and the infantile at play in the practice, the theory, the training of analysts? I don’t mean to say we should attempt to analyze analysis. Not only would this be absurd, it would be trying to make too much sense. And as Adam Phillips, in my opinion very rightly, suggests, “when psychoanalysis makes too much sense, or makes sense of too much, it turns into exactly the symptom it is trying to cure: defensive knowingness.” (Terrors and Experts, p. 87)
So, again, where do I begin?
Psychoanalysis has taught me to question the very possibility and value of biographical truth, i.e. the credibility of any discernable continuity or pattern in a given life. For an act, as Lacan wrote, always misunderstands itself. And Lacan’s writing can indeed be read as “an elaborate meditation on the ways in which --- and the structures by which --- we can never be transparent to ourselves.” (Promises, Promises, p. 111)
And this is where I begin: with the questioning of biographical truth.
I didn’t know it at first. My relationship with my immediate environment was, as it always is, unstable. Very early on --- around the age of 12 --- I felt many years had been wasted in trivia. This was made clear to me when I was first introduced to Literature. At once was revealed to me the delight that could be found in what Charles Péguy called l’effrayante responsibilité, the terrifying responsibility of reading. I felt I was given, as George Steiner puts it, a measureless privilege. That is where I came from. That is where I was born, humanly born. For it was then and there, in that discovery of our answerability to what is written, that I got my first inkling of what Pierre Legendre, an early companion of Lacan, psychoanalyst and jurist, one of the world’s leading authorities on canon law, refers to as the ‘poetic price’ of living. It is a price I immediately knew I wanted to pay (as if one had a choice), a price I knew would leave me maimed if left unacknowledged. The expression ‘poetic price’ refers to the very simple fact that our inescapably linguistic existence alienates us from nature as well as from ourselves. “There is no natural desire,” Lacan wrote somewhere. Or, as Oscar Wilde put it: “Between me and the world there is a mist of words, always.”
Certain forms of ‘madness’ could perhaps be understood as a desperate attempt at clearing that mist. And the expression also refers to the answerability I alluded to just a moment ago: we have no choice but to respond and to take responsibility. Because we are born into language, we are born indebted. To ourselves: we have no choice but to try and answer for ourselves. For this we need tools. The tools I was unexpectedly given were the tools of literacy. Between the ages of eleven and nineteen I followed what was then known as ‘classical studies’. The years after grade seven were not numbered, they were named: Latin elements, Syntax, Method, Versification, Belles-lettres, Rhetoric, and two years of Philosophy. These were determining years. Memory was the pivot. A lot had to be learned by heart, an idiom, as Steiner says, worth thinking about closely. And he adds: “The classic reader (…) locates the text he is reading inside a resonant manifold. Echo answers echo, analogy is precise and contiguous, correction and emendation carry the justification of accurately remembered precedent. The reader replies to the text out of the articulate density of his own store of reference and remembrance. It is an ancient, formidable suggestion that the Muses of memory and of invention are one. (…) We no longer learn by heart. The inner spaces are mute or jammed with raucous trivia. (Do not ask even a relatively well-prepared student to […] tell you what an eclogue is, to respond to the title of ‘Lycidas’, to recognize even one of the Horatian allusions and echoes from Virgil or Spenser which give to the four opening lines of the poem their meaning. Schooling today, notably in the United States, is planned amnesia..)” (No Passion Spent, p. 14-15)
But those years of course didn’t only bring me joy. They were difficult years. Coming from an almost illiterate environment, how was I to embrace the unbounded charge of cultural, intellectual, literary, scientific riches I was suddenly met with? The rules of their usage were incomprehensible; each attempt at making those riches mine was a leap in the dark --- and for good reason: as I was later to understand, it was the very rules of reality that had been altered. Insoluble possibilities --- Kierkegaard speaks of the ‘wounds of possibilities’ --- had been forced on me.
I failed miserably at first ---only Literature --- French, English, Latin and Greek --- and Zoology held my attention (captivated me would be a better way of putting it). I started writing. I gave my essays to my French Literature professor, who read them carefully. We talked. His unfailing, unfaltering support pulled me through.
A few years later, one morning, a philosophy professor arrived in class with two books. “Read this,” he said, “It’s for you.” This was 1967. The books were Jacques Derrida’s L’écriture et la difference and Jacques Lacan’s Ecrits. The tragic twins of psychoanalysis, as I would later come to refer to them. I read both books --- and that was it. I felt enthused, galvanized, inspired, enlivened. Both books --- Derrida’s more so than Lacan’s --- touched on the raw. And I still hold Derrida to be one the two most important philosophers of the past century, the other being Martin Heidegger; I also consider both to be the greatest writers of philosophy since Kant. Not that Kant was a particularly elegant writer (to the contrary) but he was the first to use German, the language of philosophy before him having been Latin. But back to my professor’s gift. As I read the two books, I was reminded of Kafka’s judgment: no book is worth reading that doesn’t hit you like an axe, that doesn’t break the frozen sea within you. And that is exactly what they did; they broke something in me. It was the writing itself that had as vivid and disturbing an impact on me as the theoretical content of the books. Both would map the terrain of almost all my future work. I had been given access to a model of consciousness that put language at its center and made patent the detergent emptiness of all market-place psychological (or would-be psychoanalytical) parlance. Derrida and Lacan restored a vital genius of innovation and of truth to our reading of many classics, one of which is of particular interest to us, Freud. Something immensely destructive had happened to Freudian studies; Derrida and Lacan re-enlivened them. It was they who immediately convinced me that, as Adam Phillips puts it, “reading what used to be called Literature is probably a better preparation for the practice of psychoanalysis than the reading of anything else (political history would be a close second). The ethos of psychoanalysis would be greatly improved if it was more acknowledged that one can no more institutionalize psychoanalysis than one can institutionalize poetry. You can teach poetry, but you cannot teach someone to be a poet. The same is true of psychoanalysis.” (Promises, Promises, p. xvi-xvii) And so I could say, like him, of the two professors I have mentioned, that they “taught me more about psychoanalysis, without ever mentioning it, than any of my psychoanalytic teachers did by mentioning nothing else. By teaching me to read they taught me how to listen.” (p. xviii) But I have jumped ahead.
Derrida and Lacan forced in us a conversion in our ways of questioning. They brought into question the very possibility of any verifiable ‘final sense’; ‘meaning’ was shown to be a play of interpretative possibilities; no text, no theory, no author could any longer aspire to the privilege of Truth. They told of an epilogue in our culture. As even Steiner acknowledged, they restored to philosophy, literary studies, humanities and psychoanalysis a lost passion, a lost intellectual challenge (cf. No Passion Spent, p. ix). Their voices were immediately unmistakable. Their work was reminiscent of Nietzsche’s recommendation: one should learn how to dance --- with one’s feet, with ideas, with words. And, he added, one should also dance with the pen --- one must learn to write. The only worthy ideas, he thought, are those that reach us walking. Of course, this Dionysian lesson has its limits; as Flaubert wrote: “one can only think and write sitting down.” I sat down. Derrida’s work, along with that of many others, enabled me to see that I should not expect peace --- peace of mind --- to come first: the perils of questioning would have to be first. One is not ever oneself without running the very real risk of losing oneself. Finding oneself, as Heidegger says, unterwegs zur Sprache, on the way to language, one finds oneself on the road to exile. And there is no way back. As Winnicott says, home is where is you start from --- in other words: home is the place you can only leave. And, quite literally, I did just that. Derrida had introduced me first to Foucault, Edmond Jabès, Emmanuel Lévinas, Edmund Husserl, Antonin Artaud, Hegel, structuralism, and Freud. Indeed, it was not Lacan who made me want to read Freud. Lacan made me want to read Lacan. The Freud he talked about I couldn’t relate to, having at the time no experience of analysis. Silently, Derrida and the writers he introduced me to would watch over me as I embarked unterwegs zur Analyse, on the way to analysis. His work followed, accompanied, indeed revealed the formation, evolution and progression of the various metaphors for the pathfinding, the tracing, the clearing, the stumbling walk towards the necessary and/but impossible inscription of the subject in a story and a history he could never claim to be his own. Thus I learned that the only story I would call my own never was and never would be truly, really only mine. Derrida with and after Freud told me worin die Bahnung sonst besteht, what it means to find one’s way where there are no preexisting roads, what it means to make one’s way.
The philosophy professor who had given me the two books advised me to leave North America for France. I soon followed his advice. During the year before my departure I contacted several training analysts, all members of the IPA. I had very naively thought they would be only too happy to tell me how and why they had chosen this way of life, what it meant for them to be analysts. But they all turned their would-be analytical ear to me and questioned instead my need to put such indiscreet questions to them. I didn’t understand their defensive attitude and told them so. This only made things worse. One of them told me that I should ask myself if I wasn’t in fact there to seek analytic treatment. Amused, I asked him to explain to me what that might entail. When he told me, I asked him why he wanted so much money for the service he was offering. His answer, honest as it was, left me speechless: he needed that money in order to maintain the standard of living he had chosen for himself. “Then go be a movie star,” I wanted to tell him (but didn’t). He also asked me what had got me interested in psychoanalysis. When I told him it was Derrida and Lacan, he frowned. “Derrida is not an analyst and Lacan is a fraud” was his answer. I had heard enough; I knew I never could learn to accept such abysmal stupidity. (Lacan was right: analysis might be able to do something for dishonesty, but it can’t do anything for stupidity.) I knew then, if still only intuitively, that the analyst, like the literary critic, is not, as Steiner says, “a man to stay in his own garden”. If I may risk a pastiche: chauvinism has cried havoc in politics; it has no place in psychoanalysis.
This took place in June; three months later I was in France. We are now in 1972. I am 22 years old.
Two men, Jean-Luc Nancy and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe finished turning my life around. Their teaching was unparalleled. It was obvious they felt that the condition of language needed to be brought into question for it was once again at the risk of losing something of its innovative, humane genius: ‘deconstruction’, ‘dissemination’ had very rapidly been turned into theories singular to their expressive need. Zarathustra’s lesson --- “Now, do without me” --- remained unheard. What they taught me was that we are read by the books we read. That is why we are answerable to them, much in the same way I am answerable as analyst, to what I listen to. The words I read, the words I listen to take hold of the place I strive to make mine. I read, I write and I listen for reasons very similar: because I need to reflect on the place they occupy in me, on what they do in my stead. What I came to think as I sat in their classes, as I read the works they commented on, was that analysis and reading shared a common goal: to welcome, to accommodate, to make room for and to carry through one language the foreignness of another; to try and disturb, unsettle each language so that between them, in some undefined, undecidable space might emerge a new and real freedom of speech. The American Geoffrey Hartman wrote that “there is something radically strange in the language of others.” I would venture: not only of others; there is something radically strange, foreign being said in the very language I arrogantly call my own. And reading, writing and analysis should be efforts at trying to confront that strangeness and learn to live with it.
Lacan’s writing certainly challenges us to do just that. If one was to caricature the analytic milieu, one could say that it is divided mainly between two types defined by the Greek rhetoricians: the atticists, who defended classical elegance; and the asianists, who preferred a more exuberant, baroque style. It had to be Great Britain, of course, bless her, providing us with a “Middle Group” … The reason I make reference to the Rhetoricians (both capitalized? See above) is that the art of speaking and writing effectively --- Rhetoric --- was invented and used to settle proprietary disputes. And this is exactly what the institutionalization of psychoanalysis was (and still is) about. One must not forget that analysts are people who need other people’s stories --- and want to be paid for listening to them. It is the analyst’s request that precedes that of the analysand. “Please, talk to me and pay me” says every analyst. So what do analysts do? They organize conferences (which means they set stages for their own performances), they publish their writings. All this is the hope of getting their names out on the market-place in order to secure the greatest possible number of analysands. Clients. Institutions do the same, always on the pretext of insuring the public at large that the quality of the services offered by their members is irreproachable. In order to do this, each analyst-member of a given institution is expected to produce the respectable discourse. All this, of course, has contributed to the fact, as Adam Phillips says, that quite a lot of psychoanalysis has been wasted on psychoanalysts.
This had been made clear to me by the analyst who had explained to me that he simply had no choice but to charge what he charged in order to maintain the standard of living he had chosen for himself. Not surprisingly, when I suggested that the issues related to money in the context of analysis might be slightly more complex, he put an end to the conversation.
But where was I? Yes: Lacan’s writing. Difficult, unsettling, it left me with no other choice but to try and find my own way. Either that or, as most of his followers did, I cast myself in the mould. For the Ecole freudienne de Paris, which Lacan had founded in 1964, was not better than the IPA. In a way, it was worse --- but who could blame them? In the entire history of psychoanalysis, there had never been anyone like Lacan. He was the James Joyce of psychoanalysis --- and he knew it.
My first analyst, a member of Lacan’s school, had been in analysis with one of Freud’s last analysands. In terms of Freudian genealogy, I suppose that made me Freud’s great-grandson. Marvellous, isn’t it? His name had been given to me by a Linguistics professor on staff at the Faculty of Psychology in Strasbourg. Our first encounter was amusing.
As I didn’t have a phone (they were still a relatively rare commodity at the time in France) I went directly to his office to make an appointment. No sooner had I taken place in the waiting room, I saw a gnome-like figure erupt from a side-door, an appointment book in his hand, looking rather cross. “I don’t have time!” was how he greeted me. I burst out laughing and told him I was only there to make an appointment. “Come back in September and we shall see” --- and he promptly disappeared through the same door. When September came I went back, we talked and decided the analysis could begin. It lasted for a little over five years, during which I assiduously frequented the milieu. It very soon became clear to me that I wanted to do this for a living but I had no idea how to go about getting a proper training. I asked my analyst. His answer was disconcerting: I was to make contact with anyone I chose from the Ecole freudienne and ask if I could join their group. That way I would get to meet other people, join other seminars or groups and present papers when I felt ready. People would thus get to know me, working relationships would be established. This would go on for several years until I felt ready to take people in analysis myself. If I wanted, I could then seek supervision. Nothing formal, no set program of studies, no exams of any kind, no thesis or memoir to produce. And no official authorization would ever be given me to practice. I was on my own, it was up to me to know and to decide when and if I should practice. As there were --- still aren’t --- no state laws in France regulating the practice of psychoanalysis, I could even, if I wanted, start practicing straight away. No one would ask any questions.
So I did what I was told. I joined groups, workshops, seminars, attended conferences, went to Paris every week to follow Lacan’s seminar, presented papers, published them, etc. This went on for several years. Relationships developed with colleagues, some of whom had been practicing for quite some time.
I was at first somewhat intimidated. All these people, after all, had long been engaged in the practice of psychoanalysis, whereas my only experience of it was an analysand. But I rapidly grew disillusioned. Indeed, what they said and wrote about both their practice and the texts they studied was, I found, rather confused and, I must say, rather fenced in, short of breath. Also, the mimetism pervading in the milieu made me wary. Why did most of these people need to imitate Lacan’s mannerisms, I wondered? In the end, from wary that I was I simply grew weary. But what could I do? I wanted to practice analysis and couldn’t yet conceive of doing so without belonging to the club. So I made an appointment with the Secretary of the EfP. I told him I was thinking of becoming a member but that I needed first to know more about the actual organization of the institution: what were their requirements, how did they go about recognizing someone as one of their analysts, how were they different from other institutions, etc. In other words, I naïvely --- or arrogantly --- thought I would be the one to decide if I would become a member or not. Not for a moment did I think they might be the ones to decide whether or not I was qualified. He was, I must say, rather taken aback. He simply, and rather curtly, told me I would first have to make myself known as an analyst. In other words, I would first have to set myself up in practice, discuss my work with colleagues, publish papers --- and they would see. And that is exactly what I did, except that I rapidly changed my mind about joining their guild. The deluge of commentary and would-be exegesis (mostly of Lacan’s texts) they poured out I found, for the most part, hollow. Still, their persuasions and quarrels had a very public role; each looked upon himself as an arbitrator of lacanian orthodoxy. I didn’t like the dour and turgid guise lacanian orthodoxy assumed. I was disappointed, yes, but above all I was bored. The pattern was one of desperate monotony: interminable discussions as to whether or not this book or that article was in accord with the school’s doxa. As Adam Phillips writes, “psychoanalysis (…) teaches us that we don’t often know what we are saying (…). No amount of scientific research will diminish the waywardness of our words: there will always be the clamour of the incongruous. (…) When psychoanalysts spend too much time with each other, they start believing in psychoanalysis. They begin to talk knowingly, like members of a religious cult. It is as if they have understood something. They forget, in other words, that they are only telling stories about other stories; and that all stories are subject to an unknowable multiplicity of interpretations. (…) When psychoanalysis is not the means to a personal style, it merely hypnotizes people with a vocabulary.” (Terrors and Experts, p. xvi – xvii)
When Adam Phillips and I met in London in October 2003, we talked about how difficult it sometimes is knowing who to recommend as analyst to people who ask us. To whom? And why her or him? How do we choose those to whom we decide to send people? What are the criteria? Competence? (How do we know?) Scholarship? Experience? Reputation? Notoriety? All these things, surely, play a role --- but only to a very limited extent. As for the analyst belonging to this or that group or institution, it plays no part at all (except, perhaps, in a negative way). So, how do we choose? I told him that what for me was the deciding factor is a capacity to care. Masud Khan talked about taking someone ‘into therapeutic care’. What this means is that one should be able, as an analyst, i.e. within the limits inherent to a position one hopes is analytical, of a true concern for the other. “Yes,” said Phillips, “it’s a question of kindness.” Now, kindness is not an analytical concept --- no more that integrity, sensitivity, rigour, or honesty are, for example, all of which are Pontalis’ criteria, who is quite right, in my opinion, in saying that we base our choice on the sole representation that we have of the analyst we place our trust in, whether it be for ourselves or for someone else. The criteria are impossible to objectivize --- and they have nothing to do with anything ‘analytical’, ever. To use a term linguists use when talking about the instinctive way in which we know what is right and wrong when speaking our own language, even without knowing its rules, it is a matter of feeling or sentiment. We sense who is and who isn’t an analyst. Judy says she ‘smells’ it. It isn’t even certain we ever know exactly how it was that we came to believe that this or that person is indeed an analyst --- or even what precisely it is we mean by the word. Practices, theories, models are all numerous; and if the setting is more or less the same for all those who call themselves analysts, we have no choice but to accept that what takes place in that setting varies not only from one institution to another but even, within a given institution, from one analyst to another. The way people listen, the way they respond (interpretations, etc.), their manners, all those things are extremely different from one analyst to the other --- as well as they are for that analyst from one day to another, one analysand to another, etc.
What I believe is that we recognize as analyst --- that we take for analyst, in every sense of the word --- the person to whom and with whom we feel comfortable enough to talk, full stop. There will be time to see, during the analysis, if the impression was founded; the risk is anyway inevitable. Transference is, in a way, always there: she or he says they are analysts? So be it. It’s their business. What remains to be seen is whether or not I want to talk to them, if I feel I can have confidence. If such is not the case, then whatever their competence may be, their notoriety, intelligence, integrity, their sensitivity, their kindness, their rigour, their honesty --- whatever their qualities, it will be useless to insist. All in all, one chooses or recognizes an analyst as one chooses or recognizes a love: in radical ignorance of the stakes that will only after the event come to be revealed. As for the would-be analysts, only those who do not desperately hold on to their theories will be able to tolerate not knowing, will let themselves be affected by the very singular experience of truly meeting someone. For in the transitional space we refer to as the ‘analytic situation’, reference to theory (whether it be by the analyst or by the analysand) is always a resistance to what threatens to take place. And it was their constant reference to theory, their incapacity to say anything in their own voice that I found stultifying. All they were interested in, it seemed to me, was speaking this new language in order to secure their belonging to the magic circle of their new-found family. They were intransigently devoted to their Master, something I found rather disheartening.
Still, I chose to earn my living (another idiom that deserves to be thought about closely) as an analyst. I could not avoid it. Jacques Derrida’s book introduced me to Freud (to analysis, really) --- and I never let go. Is this a failure? I don’t think so --- but what, after all, do I know? At any rate, I didn’t forget (still haven’t forgotten) my friend Lucien Israël’s warning: Freud himself had brought our attention to the fact that the closer one gets to the neurotic kernel, resistance and symptoms grow stronger --- wanting to become an analyst, as Lacan often reminded us, is a symptom. The desire to become an analyst very often is a desire to hold on to the fantasy that is being compromised by the analytic work itself.
My first two analysts (as the first one, who I told you had been in analysis with one of Freud’s analysands, had repeated the experience with one of Lacan’s analysands) had been analysands of one of the guardians of the lacanian temple, a theoretician of the fundamentalist kind, sort of a Sheriff of the lacanian village. During each of these analyses, I was left very much on my own, a solitude the extent of which I only measured several years after the fact, when I consulted someone who had not been born to the lacanian fold. This was Joyce Mc Dougall. Adam Phillips responded to this by saying something so obvious I was surprised not to have thought of it myself --- but excess of evidence, as Derrida wrote, always requires additional investigation. What he said to me was that in his opinion a ‘lacanian’ analysis must be a very interesting experience, and undoubtedly a useful one --- on the condition of either having beforehand done an object-relation oriented analysis (in the Winnicottian sense of the word) or of having had a good enough mother. Otherwise, the experience can only be alienating.
No one can be one’s own analyst, nor can one be the theoretician of one’s own analysis. It is even terribly difficult, in my opinion, when talking about one’s analysis, to do so with what singers call a true voice, which doesn’t mean one can’t say anything at all, or that what one says should necessarily be regarded as spurious. But talking about one’s analysis is always difficult, if only because most times very little is remembered: an atmosphere, a voice, manners, a décor, impressions, a few words. Almost nothing, considering the hundred (if not thousands) of hours one had spent on the couch. When talking about one’s analysis, one should, I believe, make one’s own Antoni Tapiès’ general advice: do not try to explain.
Analysis examines the place occupied by the individual in the symbolic --- i.e. first and foremost, in her or his parents’ discourse. An individual who has no bearings, who lives, if you will allow me the neologism, in an identificatory void, who is confronted with what Bettelheim called an ‘unthinkable anxiety’, does not know what she or he is made of and carries a name that names a stranger. That individual is inwardly exiled. Analysis is a place where that anxiety will be held, where the unthinkable will have a chance of being thought, where the breach in the existential continuity with others will have a chance of being repaired. But this can happen only if there is someone there who has not lost sight of the personal drama --- for it is always a drama --- that had led him to choose to become an analyst. It is the analyst’s duty to keep in touch, as Maud Mannoni wrote, with the child and the madness still very much alive in him. It is his duty not to shirk the questions that imperil his narcissism.
It is not my frequentation of the analytic milieu that has taught me this. Analysts, as Joyce Mc Dougall writes, are fragile, narcissistic, neurotic; they are fascinated by the Analyst. This fascination is the consequence of something Lacan provocatively described in his first seminar as the feeling of being an impostor. No analyst is ever quite sure where his competence lies. Or rather, this is something he knows in theoretical terms. Admittedly he can sometimes feel that he is indeed in the right place doing what he is doing; that he is doing a proper job; that he knows what he is doing --- but there is no escape from the perplexing feeling that he is living on borrowed time: a day will come when he is found out. (Interpreters, it would seem, often share this feeling.) The analyst is in no better position than anyone else when it comes to knowing who he is. What he knows about himself does not tell him who he is. That is why he talks and writes: because he has no answer to the question of which he is the subject: who am I? And it isn’t any easier for him than it is for anyone else to not know. Not knowing may even, for some of them, be harder than it is for those to whom they offer their services. I would even venture that many couldn’t avoid becoming analysts exactly for that reason. In other words, they had to become analysts because they were incapable of completing their analysis. For, as we all know, the best way to resist something is to not renounce it. Hence their need for institutions: institutional belonging is a cover-up for their unverifiable identity. As are titles. Why else would analysts be classified either as Ph.D.s or M.D.s? Titles are makeshift identities analysts need to convince themselves (and others) they are not charlatans. Analysts need institutions to give them letters patent of, if not nobility, at least credibility. As if belonging to an institution was the only way of convincing themselves that what they had committed themselves to was not merely shamanism or romance. I owe my incapacity to adhere to such beliefs to my teachers in Literature and Philosophy. To paraphrase Steiner, I carry with me a vision of ‘schools of creative reading’ for psychoanalysts (school is far too pretentious a word: a quiet room and table will do), where we would have to begin at the simplest, and therefore most exacting level of material integrity. We would have to wake the numbed muscles of memory, to rediscover in our quite ordinary selves the enormous resources of precise recollection, and the delight that comes of the texts which have secure lodging within us. For what is prevalent in most analytic circles is vulgarization and loud vacancies of intellect on the one hand, and maddening arcane language trying to hide the near-dyslexia of their reading habits on the other. Again as Adam Phillips writes: “Psychoanalysis doesn’t need any more abstruse or sentimental abstractions (…), it needs more good sentences.” (Promises, Promises, p. xvi)
So, bored with his epigons’ histrionics, I finally decided to visit Lacan himself. This was in 1975. It was my friend Lucien Israël’s suggestion that I talk to Lacan; he warned me: Lacan would probably not keep me for more than a few minutes and would charge me a steep fee, so I better be clear as to what I wanted to say to him. I called his office. Gloria, his secretary, gave me an appointment for the following day and recommended that I be on time, as his schedule was extremely busy.
I arrived a few minutes early. I was shown into a medium-size room where several people were already seated. I sat down on a settee facing the open door through which I had come in. A few minutes passed before Lacan appeared. Through the doorway I was facing I saw him running behind a man, pushing him towards the landing door, yelling obscenities and kicking him in the backside. I was rather amused. He came back, silently stood in the doorway facing me, looking blank. As no one moved, I got up and introduced myself.. “Go ahead,” said Lacan. As this was my first visit, I didn’t know where he wanted me to go, so I asked. “Go ahead,” he repeated. Again I asked him where. “There”, he said, pointing towards a door opening onto an adjacent room. I was invited to sit down next to his desk. He sat in front of the desk and looked at me, still silent. I waited. Finally he spoke. “Who sends you?” I told him. “Why are you here?” I explained that I was about to return to North America after a five year stay in France, during which I had studied Philosophy; done an analysis with someone from his Ecole; had frequented the milieu, which had left me totally dissatisfied. “Yes”, he said, sighing deeply. I told him I had thought of organizing a tour of several universities if he was interested. He was, very. We talked about my studies, my training; he asked me all kinds of questions as to whom I knew in the EfP, etc. The conversation lasted a little over an hour. He thanked me for coming to see him, asked me to stay in touch --- and didn’t charge me a penny. The tour was finally organized by Shoshana Felman, from Yale University. I later met Lacan again on two occasions, once at his office, another time at a private party a couple of years before he died. He was by then a very ill man, with whom it was no longer possible to have a normal conversation, something his pupils and/or disciples refused to acknowledge. To the very end, Lacan held his seminar --- as one would say of a service --- in spite of the fact that he was mute, had to be brought up to the dais by someone, where he would stand, stare blankly at his audience, sometimes weeping. And still the audience was as massive as ever. They simply could not accept the reality of his degeneration --- and that they were henceforth on their own.
What followed his death was even worse than what had existed during his lifetime. I turned away and started an itinerant life, working with people --- individuals or small groups --- in various countries, a life I am still leading. And that is where, and how, I keep beginning.
The title and subtitle for this presentation imposed themselves upon me as soon as it was decided that I should say something about what it was that had brought me to psychoanalysis, how I had come to it, what kind of training I had had, etc. But I didn’t at first know where that title and subtitle came from. It was only once I was well into the writing of the text that I knew. The title is obviously a pastiche of Paul Auster’s The Invention of Solitude. So I read the book again (I had first read it ten years ago), to see if it would tell me why I had needed to make such massive reference to it. And it did,
The book is about loss; specifically, the loss of his father and the loss of himself as a child, the loss of the child he had been. It is also about memory and about saving his father, about a way of living one’s life so that nothing is ever lost. On page 138 of the Penguin edition, Auster tells the story of his two encounters with Francis Ponge. It is this passage, which I will read to you, that explained to me why it was this book that provided me with a title for my presentation, my selbstdarstellung, as Freud calls it, my Self-Portrait, which is the self-portrait of an other (as all self-portraits are --- but that is another story, for some other time), as I, too, have lost the child and the young man I once was. I forget who it was that wrote that one can only speak of oneself in the past, dead. Georges Bataille perhaps, but I am not sure. Anyway, Auster’s book provided me with a title --- and with more than a title: it provided me with a framework.
Before I read the passage I must tell you something about the plurality of simultaneous movements that are brought into play here.
Francis Ponge is a writer I started reading most attentively thirty years ago. One of the texts I remember being of particular importance is Tentative Orale, in which he at one point explains how writing was for him a way of cleansing himself. That spoke to me.
Then there was Derrida’s contribution to a conference organized in Cerisy on Ponge’s work, Signeponge, in which there is a remarkable passage on the question of names, specifically on what it means to speak in (some)one’s name, under the authority of someone’s name, etc., a problem the presentation you heard this morning made constant reference to in more or less oblique ways.
Here is the passage:
“In the spring of 1966, not long after meeting his future wife, A. was invited by her father (an English professor at Columbia) to the family apartment on Morningside Drive for dessert and coffee. The dinner guests were Francis Ponge and his wife, and A.’s future father-in-law thought that the young A. (just nineteen at the time), would enjoy meeting so famous a writer. Ponge, the master poet of the object, who had invented a poetry more firmly placed in the outer world than perhaps any other, was teaching a course at Columbia that semester. By then A. already spoke reasonably good French. Since Ponge and his wife spoke no English, and A.’s future in-laws spoke almost no French, A. joined in the discussion more fully than he might have, given his innate shyness and penchant for saying nothing whenever possible. He remembers Ponge as a gracious and lively man with sparkling blue eyes.
“The second time A. met Ponge was in 1969 (although it could have been 1968 or 1970) at a party given in Ponge’s honor by G., a Barnard professor who had been translating his work. When A. shook Ponge’s hand, he introduced himself by saying that although he probably didn’t remember it, they had once met in New York several years ago. On the contrary, Ponge replied, he remembered the evening quite well. And then he proceeded to talk about the apartment in which that dinner had taken place, describing it in all its details, from the view out the windows to the color of the couch and the arrangement of the furniture in each of the various rooms. For a man to remember so precisely things he had seen only once, things which could not have had any bearing on his life except for a fleeting instant, struck A. with all the force of a supernatural act. He realized that for Ponge there was no division between the work of writing and the work of seeing. For no word can be written without first having been seen, and before it finds its way to the page it must first have been part of the body, a physical presence that one has lived with in the same way one lives with one’s heart, one’s stomach, and one’s brain. Memory, then, not so much as the past contained within us, but as proof of our life in the present. If a man is to be truly present among his surroundings, he must be thinking not of himself, but of what he sees. He must forget himself in order to be there. And from that forgetfulness arises the power of memory. It is a way of living one’s life so that nothing is ever lost.”
Before it can be written, before it finds its way to the page a word must first have been part of the body, a physical presence that one has lived with in the same way one lives with one’s heart, one’s stomach, and one’s brain. This brings back two memories. The first is of a session with my first analyst. I was on the couch, silent. After a while my analyst asked me what I was thinking of. I said to him: “I am lying on a couch. In front of me are bookshelves. Slightly to the left, a door. To my right, a wall. I have words to name everything in this room --- but none are mine.” The second is an older memory. I was ten. Every morning, during the winter months of that year, I would wake before dawn and go to church to attend the six o’clock mass. Most times the church would be empty. I would sit at the back, in a corner near the confessionals, where the light was weakest. I didn’t pray: I didn’t believe. I went because I loved the madness of believing, its delirious rituals, the pompous actor in costume who took himself to be God’s vicar, every morning repeating the same gestures and the same Latin words, convinced that what he was saying matched life’s grandeur. I would leave at the moment of communion. I would return to the cold night and quickly walk home, head in my shoulders, hands in my coat pockets, happy and reassured not to belong.
It is much in the same state of mind that years later I would attend the high masses that analysts hold, there again forced to accept that if I was to attend their secular communion it would have to be carrying a rather long spoon. I much prefer spaces such as this one, where thought has a far better chance of being made at once intimate and festive.
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