Saturday, February 27, 2016

Lacan's Last Woman

If you haven’t read up on the history of psychoanalysis and, in particular, Jacques Lacan, the most influential Freudian since Freud, you will probably not find this story especially compelling. If you want to get up to speed you should read my book The LastPsychoanalyst.  Right away.

Obviously, the topics in my book and in the history of psychoanalysis are somewhat difficult. And yet, if you do not know something about intellectual history you will never really understand what is going on, for example, in universities. It’s nice to observe the effects of political correctness. If you don’t know the cause, you will be reduced to empty denunciations but no counterarguments.

Anyway, today’s topic concerns a woman named Catherine Millot. It was well enough known at the time, that she was Lacan’s last mistress. From 1972 to 1981 she had an affair with the famed psychoanalyst. All the while she was his patient.

In France, where people knew of the transgression, no one really paid it very much attention. Lacan had understood that Freud was trying to transform the culture, to substitute an ethic of desire for an ethic of duty and work. Since, he believed that desire could only exist when people were breaking the rules, his behavior was consistent with his theories… which, after all, was exactly what it was supposed to be.

One might also refer to a somewhat earlier love affair conducted by New York analyst Horace Frink with a patient named Angelika Bijur. I recounted the story in my book and would make special note of the fact that Frink’s analyst was Freud himself.

Besides, as I explained in some detail, Lacan placed himself beyond morality. He might have begun by breaking the rules, but he aimed at a condition of amorality, where the rules did not apply to him.

Naturally, psychoanalysts, especially the French variety, are horrified at the notion that anyone would try to grasp the impenetrable obscurities of the theory by referring to the man, himself. Good Platonists that they are, they spend their time gazing directly at the pure Ideas. This has rendered no small number of them blind to reality and morality.

In the first place, psychoanalysis is a practice, not a theoretical parlor game. Second, to be perfectly truthful, the number of people who really understand Lacan’s theories in the world today can be counted on two hands... if that. Most people join the cult because they love the man himself. They can toss around arcane formulae that they do not understand, but they do know that the meaning of the theories was the man himself. Ignore him and you have missed the point completely.

Strictly speaking, psychoanalysis is not going to make anyone get better. In France, in particular, it has never claimed to cure anything, to treat anything or to relieve human suffering. Lacan himself said that the clinical practice of psychoanalysis was a scam and that if anyone ever got better in analysis it was a fortuitous accident. Even in the hands of an Adam Phillips, it rejects normality as its goal.

If you were to ask what is its treatment goal, the answer lies in the person of a man like Lacan.

Those who have read my book will understand this. Those who have not, will not.

I recall a conversation I had with a friend in Paris in 1980. I noted to him that Lacan was looking seriously depressed. To that my friend, who was also a personal friend of Lacan, replied, with an air of great empathy: “His mistress just broke up with him. He has had his last woman.” Lacan was 79 at the time.

Anyway, Catherine Millot has just written a slim volume called Life with Lacan about her love affair with her psychoanalyst. In it she explains that she had consciously wanted to be Lacan’s “last woman.”

The book was recently reviewed in Le Monde, the prestigious French newspaper, by Elisabeth Roudinesco, the quasi-official biographer and historian of French psychoanalysis. I would mention that Roudinesco is a notable apologist for Lacan.

I have translated most of the review for your interest, not only to present some of Millot’s ideas, but also to show how the French cult around psychoanalysis functions. I will note, in passing, that the translation feels slightly awkward at times. In part this was because I did it in haste— blame the blogosphere—but in part it is because Roudinesco’s French, to my eye, is clunky. I have tried to smooth it out in places, but still….

Since Roudinesco is an excellent writer, I cannot imagine why she would have written a review that feels slapped together and difficult to read. I can only assume that she was trying to ensure that people do not read the book. If she had denounced it vigorously, in powerful prose, she would have drawn people to read it. By dismissing it as old news she was telling people that they should not waste their time.

One notes that within the cult of French psychoanalysis, people read what they are told to read and do not read what they are told not to read. If you think that American college students are having their minds turned into Jello, as Camille Paglia says, you should take some time to look into the intellectually stifling world of psychoanalysis. They make the indoctrination mills called American universities look amateurish.

Anyway, Roudinesco:

Writer and psychoanalyst, Catherine Millot offers a raw account of her love affair with Jacques Lacan—the man who, incidentally was her analyst throughout her affair-- from 1972 to 1981.

That is to say, she accompanied Lacan through the last years of his life, from the moment he gave his dizzying seminar on female mystics (entitled Encore) through the time when he became mute and started fabricating Borromean knots, therein to seek the logical key to madness.

Roudinesco notes that Millot’s portrait corresponds well to what we already know about Lacan. It is consistent with the portrait I presented in my book and the one that Roudinsco herself presented in several volumes.

She is doing so in order to tell people that they need not read Millot’s book:

Writing about this man who she knew so well Millot paints a portrait that does not contradict what we already know about him. Extravagant and libertine, fascinated by the Catholic Church, trying to meet with the pope, in love with Baroque Rome, armed with an American pistol to fight off attackers, Lacan enjoyed the company of bishops and cardinals.

Importantly, as I remarked in my book, Lacan believed in breaking rules. Having an affair with a patient certainly counts.

But Roudinesco recounts a conversation Lacan had with a transsexual man in a patient presentation. She taxes Lacan with rudeness— effectively, rudeness was Lacan’s signature—and explains how the presentation affected Millot.

As a psychoanalyst Lacan was certainly breaking the treatment rules, and during his famous patient presentations at the Hospital of Sainte-Anne in Paris, he did not hesitate to be rude to the patients.

[Millot wrote:]

Thus, speaking to a transsexual who insisted that he was a woman, Lacan kept telling him, during the interview, that he was a man… whether he liked it or not, and that no operation would make him a woman. In the end, Lacan called him: a poor sod.

Astonished by this scene, Catherine Millot became interested herself in transsexualism and concluded that Lacan was speaking as he was in order to signify that the human condition could adopt a miserable face.

Two notes here. Those who would like to read a transcript of one of the case presentations can refer to the only one that has ever been published. Lacan allowed me to put it in my book, Returning to Freud.

While it is true that Lacan practiced what Janet Malcolm called “therapeutic rudeness,” he was sympathetic to the schizophrenic whose interview I translated for my book. For the record, Malcolm introduced the notion of Lacan's rudeness in a New York Times review of my book Jacques Lacan: The Death of an Intellectual Hero.

As for Lacan as a lover, the picture Millot presents is anything but flattering. Those who would like another unflattering portrait of the psychoanalyst as a pathetic lover should read Philippe Sollers’ book Femmes or Women. Lacan is presented as a character called Fals. Curiously, Sollers presents the notorious ladies’ man as weak and pathetic, not like a dashing lothario.

This also suggests that Lacan had fully overcome shame. Being a good pupil herself, Millot has shown that she has overcome her own sense of shame. She wrote an account of her love affair.

Roudinesco writes:

Unable to separate from any woman, Lacan demanded of each of his mistresses complete submission to unusual rituals: travel as a threesome, sharing the same places, frequenting insufferable people (like Armand Petitjean, a collaborationist writer.)

In short, this strikingly and boundlessly baroque Lacan wanted to live his life as he pleased. He considered that: “women  always contained a scourge.”

For the record, collaborationist refers to those who collaborated with the Nazis when France was occupied during World War II.

Roudinesco continues:

Nevertheless, Catherine Millot always refused to participate in his manias. She loved Lacan and he returned her love. She wanted to be “his last woman” fact that elicited in her predecessor (madame T) a frightening jealousy. This latter treated her like a rival and declared that she was “ descended from an ape.” About which Millot wrote that “she easily recognized herself in the description because she had long arms and a marked prognathism.

Catherine Millot knew that her attachment resembled a mystical love:

I had the feeling that I had grasped Lacan’s being from the inside. [I was} convinced that he knew me completely and absolutely. A part of my being had been given over to him; he had become its guardian.

She understood that her lover, who was forty-three years older than her, was declining before her eyes. Thus, when Lacan wanted to have a child with her, she decided to end her treatment and her liaison:

For me I felt that something had been torn away from me. For him it was an earthquake.

Here we have a life story cleverly written, in a Harlequin style, by a woman who now is the same age Lacan was when she met him in Italy, in the heart of the “five lands” (Cinque Terre) of the Ligurienne Coast.  Today the place has been declared by Unesco as a world historical site. A tawny Lacan.

Psychoanalysts like to agonize over the question of the end of analysis. Surely, the termination of Millot’s analysis, at a moment when a 79-year-old man told her he wanted to have a child with her… deserves to be counted as an especially poignant example. It will surely elicit a great deal of mindless theoretical lucubration from the Lacanians.

The last sentence is peculiar: Un Lacan couleur fauve. Make of it what you will.


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