Is this ‘Real’ Psychoanalysis?

A little while ago a friend forwarded a YouTube link to an excerpt from ‘Hannibal’, asking how close to ‘real’ psychoanalysis the Hannibal Lecter character’s observations in the clip are in my opinion. Noting the calm and calculating way in which the character renders the comments, he formed a question that can be stated as: “Is this what one might expect from a ‘real’ Psychoanalyst?

My initial thought was something along the lines of: “This clip presents a phantasy about what an audience might expect of a serial killer; the staging of a menacing intimacy.” The notion of a serial killer doesn’t inhabit my imagination all that much and Hannibal is not a programme that I watch. Although I was interested when it was launched in the UK. Having enjoyed the film with the Foster/Hopkins rendering of The Silence of the Lambs, and the book by Sam Harris had not made for particularly disturbing reading. In this version, the lingering play of camera shots as well a other devices of the filming craft, repetitiously savouring a supposed gourmet delight in preparing and serving a dish likely to be human meat to a prospective victim prompted aversion and switching of channels.

The Clip

This excerpt turns on a familiar plot device: The ‘FBI Profiler’. Something of what Lacan termed a ‘Subject Supposed to Know’, who for some decades was referenced to the field of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences. Their mystique must be waning if psychoanalysis is resurfacing to sustain the intrigue.

Another plot device: two profilers, a good cop and a bad cop, here staged with reflexive twists to heighten the thrill of danger. The criminal whose is the object of the investigation is one of the profilers. Plot symmetry situates this in a pair with another reflexive twist: the good profiler, a Subject, finds himself in the place of the object, being profiled. Thus objectified, he rightly protests against what he interprets as ‘being psychoanalysed’. A fair misconception in terms of the plot, since Hannibal is Supposed to ‘be’ a Psychoanalyst rather than a Serial Killer

Staging an idea of ‘psychoanalysing’ with reference to a serial killer assumes a phantasy of psychoanalytic knowledge as monstrous.

While this invokes something of a real that must necessarily – but usually unconsciously – be part of the knowledge supposed to the analyst, part of a real that supports transference, it is not the bigger part of the story. While the monstrous is of interest to psychoanalysis, attaching it to such a chilling figure entrenches the demonisation of such a knowledge. As such it is one of the expressions of  what Lacan terms as ‘the passion for ignorance’ that has driven the so called, ‘Behavioural Sciences’. AKA: I want to know the other as monster but I don’t want to know anything of my own monstrosity, so that I can keep it up. If I come to know my own monstrosity, I may not find it so captivating and I might even want to find another way to live; give it up for something else.

What is called for from a Psychoanalyst?

What is demonstrated in this clip has little to do with what is called for from a Psychoanalyst. Instead it responds to a phantasy of/wish for recognition of one subject by another, in a play of mirages and regress of reflections. In this case, it appeals to a sadomasochistic phantasy. This may well be included in the demand or even the anxiety gripping an analysand at the beginning of analysis, so the clip offers the subject something of what s/he may think that they want and even what they may be asking for. However, psychoanalytic experience teaches us that this is NOT what is called for from a Psychoanalyst.

What is a Subject?

What the subject entering analysis is desperate for is a viable means of calculating, figuring out how to respond to the ever-changing conditions as well as to the stasis of his/her life experience.

The analytic procedure enables the Subject to come to grasp themselves as a Subject, in as much as the Subject is a void, a deduction.

What this Subject cannot do without is a way to be able to take account of the variables of their experience and through this to distinguish themselves in and from it. This is of the order of a quest; not a quest to be recognised, as may be commonly conjectured, but to apprehend, to grasp themselves as a Subject, and to do so in a way that is sufficiently precise to give respite to the dis-ease that drives them in that very seeking. In so doing, the subject can assume their desire and their act.

Why is this not Psychoanalysis?

What a suffering subject needs from the encounter with a Psychoanalyst is precisely to Not be objectified in a pseudo-ultimate way by A N Other; in this case a megalomaniac who claims to be telling him the meaning of his life. Not only is such a statement always false, it is also a lie, and a particularly voracious one at that. Meaning falters as it attempts to provide an answer to a problem staged in static terms, which thereby dooms it to being overthrown by the real of flux. On the side of the Psychoanalyst, s/he cannot be on the side of the ‘right to enjoy’ , the latter being that which determines a perverse subjective ‘attitude’ – as exemplified by the Lecter character.

As such, a Psychoanalyst must be able to appreciate his/her capacity to renounce a certain dimension of his/her enjoyment – this is one way of reading the consequences of the term, ‘castration’ – key term for Freud and anyone claiming affiliation with the discipline that he inaugurated.

Not to leave it hanging there as opaque and impossible and martyred sacrifice, Lacan traces the passage of this renunciation of enjoyment to its reclamation on the inverse register of desire. To reiterate: from a Lacanian perspective, that which the subject foregoes in the register of enjoyment returns to him/her as desire. It is precisely this that analysis aims; the recuperation of desire from the jaws of enjoyment. It is precisely with an excess of enjoyment – in whatever terrible form, that a Subject enters analysis duly burdened. The Subject suffers from a being forced to enjoy something; it is something that s/he does not desire. The phenomenon of addiction demonstrates well the compulsive nature of enjoyment.

The Lecter character personifies the Push to Enjoy; an imperative towards unceasing enjoyment. In this clip, we bear witness to Lecter forcing something obscure but relentless upon his interlocutor, moving – without invitation – to touch on that subject’s most intimate suffering, aiming to close any gap (respite) that the subject may have built in separation from an unbearable real.

Psychoanalysis precisely introduces a movement in the opposite direction, inviting the subject to speak in his/her own terms about their experience. This step introduces the potential for new pulsations between desire and satisfaction.

In Place of a Theory of Everything

Another way to say this is that the psychoanalytic work enables the subject to extract from their experience a compass. The orientation of this compass functions in place of a theory of everything, albeit  Not at the level of meaning.

What does the Subject seek in analysis?

What is called for from a Psychoanalyst, then, is something else; something that must respond to the real of that which the Subject who enters analysis, compelled by the perplexity wrought by their symptoms, cannot do without.

In psychoanalysis, this ‘cannot do’ is not to be passed over lightly. More than their symptoms, what troubles the subject considerably is that they are unable to do what they feel they ought to. Languishing in the impasses of desire, the subject is unable to act. Instead, desire passes through disjunctions and displacements in the procession through inhibition or compulsion to find expression in various forms of symptomatic acts.

Meaning, Science, Psychoanalysis

The attempt to make meaning is what we do as sentient beings. We try to account for our experience in the terms of the norms and ordering functions that we are taught or discern from everyday life. Trauma arises when our experience cannot be accounted for by what thought we knew, or the meaning we make of it is impossible to bear. Disorientation arises when we find that we cannot trust our entire means of calculating what to expect.

The treatment of this disorientation can, in the end, only be a labour of love. A labour it is, an original and unique, unrepeatable piece of research. This is why psychoanalysis, although it is concerned with science is not itself a science. It cannot be bound in an algorithm that will repeatedly produce the same results. If it is to operate, it cannot but be an ethical procedure that facilitates the emergence of a properly scientific enquiry for the subject to grasp his/her bias. That bias is the indelible signature of his/her being; that which s/he strives to grasp to assume the mantle of dignity founded on such freedom as can be gleaned and the responsibility attached to its exercise.

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Last updated (24th May 2018)