Imagine my surprise when I discovered—last week—an hour-long video about Lacan, produced by one Gerard Miller the brother of Lacan’s son-in-law. (see below for a version with English subtitles)
My greatest surprise was discovering that Miller had, perhaps inadvertently, provided evidence to support my contention, made in he Last Psychoanalyst, that Lacan had turned psychoanalysis into a cult, into a pseudo-religion.
Vindication is sweet.
One notes in passing that it is not an accident that the video was a family affair. It features Lacan’s daughter Judith and closes with some mental drool from his son-in-law Jacques-Alain Miller.
If the Lacanians were speaking Italian they would have called their enterprise, Cosa Nostra, which means, “our thing” or “our cause.” You cannot get much Lacanian than that. In his dying days Lacan created something that he called the School of the Freudian Cause, translated by me as the Wholly Freudian Church.
The religious underpinning of the film’s enterprise is obvious from the beginning, when G. Miller describes the time when he watched Lacan walk up to a church in Venice and, seeing the door closed, started knocking on it. Apparently, Lacan made such an infernal racket that an official eventually opened the door and allowed the agitated psychoanalyst and his entourage to enter.
Most people will quickly recognize that this scene must have been selected to raise the question of Lacan’s knocking on Heaven’s door and asking St. Peter to allow him to enter. Since the video was produced three decades after Lacan’s death, one suspects that the matter has already been settled.
From the correct Freudian perspective, Lacan’s agitated knocking shows his insistence on getting what he really, really wanted.
Similarly, when Lacan starred in a video with his son-in-law in 1974 he submitted it to a television station. When the television station declined to broadcast such histrionic gibberish Lacan went into full assault mode. He called them over and over again. He forced his friends and colleagues and patients call them. He was implacable. And he got his way.
Those who idolize him believed that Lacan was unwilling to concede anything on his desire. It seems more correct to say that he was a bully who insisted on imposing his will on other people. After all, his followers have been known to take their theoretical debates to court, using litigation to shut down debate and to get their way.
In today’s America we have one presidential candidate who is constantly threatening and bullying people, who insists on getting his way, who will sue at the drop of a hat.
True enough, some people still think that Freudian psychoanalysis is congenial to a culture that values free discussion and debate, even free enterprise. As Lacan might have said, they understand nothing of Freud.
As for the question of Lacan’s entry into Heaven, whether his incessant door-knocking got the attention of St. Peter, I would mention an incident that the film cleverly forgot to mention. You understand, the film is hagiography. It selects what it recounts for the purposes of recruiting members in the Wholly Freudian Church.
Perhaps the most important personage in the film is Lacan’s daughter. I knew her personally back in the day and have only good memories about her. I suspect that her congeniality and cordiality derived from the fact that she was never—to my knowledge—psychoanalyzed.
Famed biographer Elisabeth Roudinesco might not want to say the same thing. In one of her biographies of Lacan Roudinesco asserted that Lacan wanted to receive the funeral rites of the Catholic Church. His daughter Judith did not, as I understand it, accord him a Catholic funeral.
Anyway Judith believed that the Roudinesco statement and the implication of dereliction was defamatory and took the biographer to court. In the first trial Roudinesco was found liable and ordered to pay compensation of 1 euro. In a retrial or an appeal, I do not recall which, the court exonerated Roudinesco.
After showing Lacan banging on a church door, the G. Miller video cleverly raises the question of whether or not Lacan is the Devil. It makes very good sense. Psychoanalysis is about desire and desire is the Devil’s playground.
So, we are invited to picture a fallen angel trying to make his way back into Heaven. Perhaps he had a late conversion that we do not know about.
In any event, the video provides us with testimony from former patients of Lacan. Obviously, we are not in the realm of clinical work or even of therapy. The experiences are closer to faith healing. They even include a nice example of laying on hands.
They also offer a fine instance of how seductive Lacan could be with women. When a young resident is chosen to greet Lacan at St. Anne's Hospital before one of his case presentations, she is so taken by his charms that she describes them in detail. She does not understand that she was being offered to the great man as compensation for his efforts at the hospital.
If you care to examine the theoretical underpinnings of this type of pseudo-clinical work I recommend that you ignore the texts of Lacan—I read them so you don’t have to—and turn to William James’s book: The Varieties of Religious Experience.
Never does G. Miller pretend that psychoanalysis offers anything like a treatment for mental illness. Getting in touch with your true desire—which must be, in Freudian terms, to copulate with your mother-- will allow you to be liberated and to live your life with more intensity.
One is reminded of a poem by William Butler Yeats, called “The Second Coming.”
Therein he wrote:
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Are full of passionate intensity.
One of the series of patients, a man who gave up the priesthood to become a psychoanalyst confirms out suspicions. Nothing about psychoanalysis caused him to lose his faith. Psychoanalysis likes to consider itself to be devil-worship, but it might be closer to God than it would like.
And then, one of the patients, a man who I knew in the time, offers a statement that confirms a point I made in my book. Curiously, the man in question is wearing a short-sleeved dress shirt. For all I know short-sleeved men’s dress shirts are a la mode in Paris, but still, there comes a time in every man’s life, not only when he puts away the toys of his childhood, but when he graduates to long-sleeved dress shirts. Let’s hope that the man in question has, by now gotten to that point.
We will forgive him, because he offers us a nugget from his first session with Lacan. As I argued at length in my book, Lacan affirms that psychoanalysis is about turning you into a fictional character, someone who plays a part in his own story.
Of course, Lacan put it in his own terms, making it appear to be inevitable, not a free choice.
… one always ends up as a character in one’s own story… psychoanalysis allows you to speed up the process….
The video ends with a short speech by Lacan’s son-in-law, Jacques-Alain Miller. If you have known him and have lost contact with him, seeing him again, even in a video, does not bring back feelings of nostalgia. Miller is one of those people who, when they have gone out of your life, you do not miss, not even for an instant.
Anyway, Miller bloviates on the fact that Lacan never shared stories about his past and had no concern whatever for posterity. According to JAM, Lacan never discussed his history with his favorite son-in-law.
What are we to make of this? For all I know Lacan chose not to take JAM into his confidence. It makes sense to me, on its face. Since the two were separated by over two decades, one understands that their relationship would not have been one between buddies.
As for posterity, if Lacan did not care about posterity, why did he pay to have all of his seminar lectures transcribed by a stenotypist. If they were not going to be saved for posterity, why bother? If he did not care about posterity, why did his daughter petition the government to make his consulting office a national historical monument, containing relics and other such things?
Miller wants to say that Lacan lived totally and completely in the present, in the here and now. This piece of idiocy is unworthy of so fine a thinker as JAM. It sounds like pure psychobabble. After all, it tells you to ignore the lessons of the past while not planning for the future.
We did not need Lacan to teach us that.