Hands Off Lacan!

This is quite an amusing piece. Albeit irritating. So much rhetoric, so much slippery use of emotowords, so much vagueness where precision is needed – all to protect the heritage of Freud and Lacan. Why, one has to wonder. What is it about Freud that makes people one would think ought to know better, cling so fiercely? I suppose I could postulate some sort of psychoanalytic answer, but would that tell us anything?

“When they speak of ‘professionalising’ people whose business is human misery; when they speak of ‘evaluating’ needs and results; when they try to appoint ‘super-prefects’ of the soul, grand inquisitors of human sadness – it is to hard not to agree that psychoanalysis is in the firing line,” Levy said.

That’s a translation, I assume, so perhaps it’s unfair to look too closely at the words – but I’m going to anyway. ‘People whose business is human misery.’ What does he mean ‘business’? People who make money off human misery? Why should they be protected? Or does he mean something along the lines of experts in human misery, people who know a lot about human misery. But one can know a lot about human misery, in some sense – arguably all humans know that – without having the faintest clue how to ‘fix’ it or cure it or do anything about it at all other than hand-wring or watch or write poetry. Even quacks and charlatans can know a lot about human misery.

Critics say the absence of regulation and a growing demand for therapy of all kinds has led to a proliferation of astrologers, mystics and con-artists – and they are demanding that the public be protected by a system of recognised qualifications. But Lacan, who died in 1981, said that the “analyst’s only authority is his own,” and his followers believe the state has no business interfering in the mysteries of the id and the unconscious. In a faction-ridden climate, many psychoanalysts also see the government’s initiative as an attempt by their arch-enemies the psychiatrists – hospital-based doctors who prescribe drugs for treating mental illness – to marginalise their work.

The analyst’s only authority is his own – well that’s blunt, at least. That’s a good concise summing-up of what’s wrong with psychoanalysis. It presents no evidence, it is not peer-reviewed, it rules out falsification. It’s a form of hermeneutic, we’re often told, which is all well and good but it also claims to be therapeutic. It wants to have it both ways, in short: to charge a lot of money for its ministrations on the understanding that they are in some way helpful for human misery, but to escape oversight and regulation on the understanding that psychoanalysis is some kind of sacred mystery. A ‘marginalisation’ of their work would be a fine thing, if you ask me.

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