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What escapes us

2011 October 13
Posted by marylouise50

In addiction, the why does not matter. It makes no difference why we began to drink or take drugs, it makes no difference that we  found added reasons along the way, it makes no difference if we uncover the original ur-rationale for drinking or drugging. The point is that we stop. Even in ignorance and  uncertainty about the why, we can stop and  have no idea why or how we stop. But stopping will make all the difference.

The truth can be deferred, even put aside for now. We may never know the truth or  truths of why this happened. It will have ceased to matter.

But who is the collective ‘we’? Can truth remain truth if it is not constituent of knowing? The behaviour changes without any  knowledge, without any truth being uttered or grasped. The behaviour is sufficient unto itself.

Marie-Helene Brousse:

The experience of analysis, unlike the demand for psychotherapeutic help, is characterized by a belief, the belief that there exists a truth, a truth which is hidden, which escapes us. This truth is placed by neurotics in a causal position as the cause of their symptom, the cause of their suffering, of their malaise… They outwit it, they seek it where it is not, convinced that knowledge of the truth will transform what "is not working" into something that "works." The love of truth is thus at the start of every analysis, together with the desire to know.

Mirror, mirror on the wall

2011 October 12
Posted by marylouise50

Back then when I was a child, there was the child in the mirror. Over and over again I read about  Snow White and how the stepmother looked at her own reflection in the mirror and asked:

Mirror, mirror

On the wall

Who is the fairest one of all?

And one day the mirror replied that the fairest one was the child Snow White become adolescent. And the Queen, the evil stepmother, had Snow White killed and demanded to see her raw bleeding heart as proof. But the huntsman killed a boar or stag instead of the young princess and showed that heart to the Queen.

“In the mirror stage, Lacan compressed the two phases into one. At the very moment when the ego is formed by the image of the other, narcissism and aggressivity are correlatives. Narcissism, in which the image of one’s own body is sustained by the image of the other, in fact introduces a tension: the other in his image both attracts and rejects me”

The mirror stayed silent and I did not recognise that self in the mirror, transposed or reversed, the  smiling nervous child with brushed hair and a tartan skirt. She did not speak either but the self who was me could  make a faint mist on the mirrored surface with her breath and write her name in that disappearing mist.

The mirror self wrote backwards but no words appeared, only those I had written. And the mirror erased all trace of those within a few moments.

But I would always approach any mirror in the room if I was alone, would engage with my reflection in play. Performativity, mimicry,  to watch myself watching myself. To see what others saw when they  caught sight of me.

James Baldwin argues, long before Freud or Lacan, that the infant is at first unable to properly recognise objects (the care-giver, for example) outside himself as not being part of his own body, treating the other’s body as his own. Nevertheless, he is dependence on the imitation of the other for his own maturation

Did I look like others, was I as pretty, was I prettier? Watching myself copying the gestures and smiles of other children, borrowing what seemed pleasing or interesting. Playing at curtsies shown in comic books, pulling faces at myself.

In 1931, Henri Wallon gave the name épreuve du miroir (mirror test) to an experiment in which a child, put in front of a mirror, gradually comes to distinguish his own body from its reflected image. According to Wallon, this dialectical operation takes place because of the subject’s symbolic comprehension of the imaginary space in which his unity is created

The ambivalence of my mirror self, the uncertainty of whether this self was pretty or not,  how others saw this self in the mirror but differently, the incomplete  way in which I perceived myself in the mirror, an insufficiency. I invented a daydream self with black hair and a new name, another self  who made up for what I lacked. She could not be seen in the mirror but she was more than me.

“The function of the mirror stage thus turns out, in my view, to be a particular case of the function of imagos, which is to establish a relationship between an organism and its reality – or, as they say, between the Innenwelt and the Umwelt [the 'inner world' and the 'outer world'] (Ecrits, 96).

Desire as metonymy

2011 October 7
Posted by marylouise50

Ageing. Squeezing your thighs tightly together to restrict or inhibit the sphincter when you sneeze so that there is no leaking, dribbling, spurting, a soggy  reminder of ageing. The gesture that points towards incontinence, nappies, bedsores, confinement, dementia.

On a rerun of Come Dine With Me 2008, the ardent, amorous, over-confident (forgetful, artlessly preening, elderly, unable to hold his liquor, behaving like a lunatic on vodka)  Peter Stringfellow (67) and his 26-year-old brunette ladette lover. His sink collapsing just after we saw a view down the Thames from his luxury apartment. Varieties of humiliation and impotence despite bedroom ceiling mirrors and handcuffs all twinkly with glitter.

Freud writes:

“It is my belief that, however strange it may sound, we must reckon with the possibility that something in the nature of the sexual instinct itself is unfavourable to the realisation of complete satisfaction” (SE XI, p.189)

He gives two reasons why this might be. Firstly, because all our object choices are displacements from the original incestuous object, so with each successive surrogate object a certain amount of satisfaction drains away. We can hear in this an echo of Lacan’s pronouncement that desire is a metonymy, but here Freud suggests that this might be why we constantly seek new stimulations and experiences in our sexual life (p.189), a phenomena that stands in contrast – as we will see later – to the relationship of a drinker to alcohol, where he never gets bored of it, does not have to introduce new fantasmatic situations to heighten the satisfaction he gets from it, and so on.

The wordless symptom

2011 October 7
Posted by marylouise50

Alexithymia, no words for feelings. Manifesting as somatiztion, ways of warding off psychic reality.

When words fail. A ,man sits down and speaks of his recurring panic disprder, the heart palpitations, restlessness, night fears, agitation, gastric disturbance.

The analyst says: ‘No, no, you must keep the symptoms. How could you live with the felt terror of abandonment? This is  a necessary symptom.’

The analyst says: ‘You are contraindicated for analysis. I refuse treatment. You need not pay for this session.’ And becomes the Father, denying the right-to-treatment. The symptom has become untreatable, beyond human reach. You are all alone with your wordless panic.

The Real in Lacan is also the impossible, what cannot be faced or integrated. The significant Other is absent. And separation anxiety may of course be experienced as intrusion anxiety. attachment disorders resignified. The unresponsive attachment figure, the dismissive or absent Mother.

So I dream of my mother being confronted by an old male friend who tells her my version of childhood, but exaggerated, a fairytale with a bitter kernel of truth. My mother in the dream is horrified,  refuses the idea of my saying such things. She gives the friend a photograph and in the black and white photograph I am fatter than I recall, a plump schoolgirl with features I do not recognise although I remember the dress I bought with saved-up pocket money when I was 15.

The body manifests psychic helplessness. The original failure in the primary attachment relationship will be repeated in all further relationships and manifest as counter-transference in treatment, the demand that the patient be treated according to a medical model and cured. The analyst will experience changelessness, distance, numbness, flatness. How can body memories become verbal representations?

The therapist may need to give the patient a piece of his mind.

A letter dropped in passing

2011 October 7
Posted by marylouise50

Written in haste, just snatching thoughts from the empty air:

For a couple of years now I have been reflecting on the work of Jacques lacan — I studied Lacan in post-grad French and had 18 months of Lacanian analysis. I go back on certaiun problems opened up by Lacan and that analysis that I have not  encountered elsewhere, as if only the absence/presence of Lacanian insights could make me aware of those problems.

Recently I have been reading through critiques made by Lacanian analyst Darina Leader of Albert Ellis’ REBT and CBT therapies, highly popular in the UK as part of life management support. I believ that CBT is efficacious for many in early so0briety (I used some suggestions myself to challenge negative or awfulizing habits of thinking  that had  developed during the drinking years). But I also found myself resisting so much of what I read or heard, because for me it didn’t fit, seemed to miss the point. I kept wanting to defend the symptom, ask about persistence of the symptom. In Lacanian analysis, interpretations are nearly always counter-intuitive — it is understood we ourselves do not know what the patterns or abreactions might be or what prompts them.

And what preoccupies me right now is the connection between [mis]remembering and repetition, what I do instead of drinking and how that has come to structure my consciousness in problematic ways I cannot seem to get away from.


When we remember a dream, do we remember it in the same way that we remember something that happened in our ‘real’, waking life? Very often we find that our dreams are so indistinct that we cannot be sure whether we are remembering the dream correctly, as we dreamt it, or whether we are constructing some kind of ‘secondary revision’ of it, adding bits to it as we narrate it so that it makes more sense to our waking consciousness. This might make us wonder whether we really remember a dream at all, or whether we just experience the illusion of remembering it.

And so we misremember the past of addiction, create a dreamlike memory structured towards the possibility of recovery. Consciousness as synthetic and falsified, rewrought, made over, not improved.

Living within this self-imposed context of ‘recovery’ is maddening for me. It is not that I want to return to the drinking, that repetition and misremembering of another kind, more dire, more of a dead end or closed circle, but that I want not to be ‘recovered’ but able to  move away from the dichotomy of  alcoholic/post-alcoholic, unrecovered/recovering, this chronic long-term condition without any visible symptoms.

Why persist in calling this ‘recovery’  escape when it is not escape but further imprisonment, an intensifying of the trapped condition because of the burden of awareness?

Repetition and [mis]remembering

2011 October 6
Posted by marylouise50

Before 2007 had I come under the thumb of therapy culture as social control? Yes, but not so overtly for a long time. And I did not know what to believe, as had happened before, talking myself into accepting what did not make sense.

For Furedi, the modern subject is not someone who does but someone who is done to.

Suppose, just suppose, one were to posit addiction as a kind of acting out, a repetition that occurs in place of remembering. [and who would the 'one' be to posit such a thing, what subject  could be named in this way?]

… the subject “in the grip of his unconscious wishes and phantasies, relives these in the present with a sensation of immediacy which is heightened by his refusal to recognise their source and their repetitive character”

My right hand not knowing what my left hand raises to the mouth. Acting out as deferred verbalisation. I will not admit to this, I will not say what I am doing, I will not say this to myself or others, I will not say it and it will remain unsaid and not happening. And yet, like the self-harming repetitions of cutting, it is always a message addressed to someone absent. A demand for recognition.

Acting out has the structure of delusion. Performative, demonstrative, but not real. desire without motivation. Why ingest drugs? Why seek euphoria? Why persist in calling this escape when it is not escape but further imprisonment, an intensifying of the trapped condition?

The repetitive compulsion that is a compulsion in its own right. Each day I am bound to do this at 5am or when I wake.  Unmotivated, unexamined, uncontested. This is what I do and I have no idea why. Why should I not stop it since there is no felt need or reason? But I do not stop. This is what we call ‘dependency’ rather than desire.

And Lacan again on the symptom as jouissance, free of the need of the Other..

“The symptom is not, like acting out, calling for an interpretation. For – it is too often forgotten – what we discover in the symptom, in its essence, is not, I say, a call to the Other, is not that which shows to the Other, that the symptom in its nature is jouissance – do not forget it – a backhanded jouissance, no doubt… [but] the symptom does not need you as acting out does, it is sufficient in itself; it is of the order of what I have taught you to distinguish from desire as being jouissance” (Seminar X, 23.01.63.)

To observe the surface of the continuous Mobius strip and what happens consciously as if it were unconscious.

I don’t want to begin developing a theory of knowledge here, but it is obvious that the things of the human world are things in a universe structured by words, that language, symbolic processes, dominate and govern all. When we seek to explore the frontier between the animal and the human world, it is apparent to what extent the symbolic process as such doesn’t function in the animal world – a phenomenon that can only be a matter of astonishment for us.

How we remember, how we reconstitute the past as if it was a dream.

When we remember a dream, do we remember it in the same way that we remember something that happened in our ‘real’, waking life? Very often we find that our dreams are so indistinct that we cannot be sure whether we are remembering the dream correctly, as we dreamt it, or whether we are constructing some kind of ‘secondary revision’ of it, adding bits to it as we narrate it so that it makes more sense to our waking consciousness. This might make us wonder whether we really remember a dream at all, or whether we just experience the illusion of remembering it.

And so we misremember the past of addiction, create a dreamlike memory structured towards the possibilty of recovery. Consciousness as synthetic and falsified, rewrought, made over, not improved.

Listening to the symptom

2011 October 6
Posted by marylouise50

Yesterday I could not bring myself to reread the diary I wrote while I was living with you. I no longer recognise myself and  you are less than a stranger to me, you have fragmented into cypher, a footnote contradicting the  text rather than supporting what was said.

In the margin I deny and repudiate that role you played in my life then, but it was not perhaps a life so much as a cinematic and episodic dream.

The cure ceased to interest me. Nodding as I read Leader: “The government favours CBT because it is about correcting surface symptoms and reintegrating people who report psychical problems back into the workplace where they can become useful again.”

My usefulness came to an end.  That morning of the rupture, the disillusionment, I had  utter physical revulsion (postponed for how many months?) and was finally able to vomit, moving between the study upstairs and the bathroom, the only places in your home you could not follow. My hair colour a maroon  stain (daube) on the bathroom door, my poverty, having to use inferior products, having to  depend on pocket money, the gorge rising in me. A virulent tear drop, a blemish, a livid scar.

The stain, as if it had been a stain of my blood, the broken virginity on the bed sheet, the blank page inscribed, the diary kept out of sight, the pile of books on the bedside table as my  amulet against your philistine intrusive nature. The mark of humiliation  made visible.

The symptom does not understand  what it is to be fair, to make space for you to speak. The body will  sing for the denied self alone.

My throat closed.

And in the years since I have come to repudiate so much of what you believed, to affirm only that I do not want what you have or believe yourself to have, to be  to have become. Your  unthinkingly accepted notion that  your own  monstrous failing (overcome) was caused by genes.  That genes  are seen as causes of everything from alcoholism to celibacy to sexual orientation: “Genes are portrayed as distinct causal agents – like germs – rather than as part of a dynamic system in which they won’t act all the time, but only in response to a complicated range of other factors.”

Of course I did not heal, I only seemed to heal. The symptom  continued, as necessary as ever

To undo the symptom, to counter the rule of the symptom, I would need to go back and sit again with LM, watching her register what I could not hear myself saying, reading gestures I failed to notice. My obliviousness curtailed. Putting down here Darian Leader’s definition because it is succinct if not  satisfactory.

Psychotherapy and counselling stir up thoughts and emotions that we may be unaware of consciously. In most talking therapies, the therapist accepts to occupy the place of the target of the strongest and most powerful of these currents: they are loved and hated.

Working through this difficult, contradictory domain is a painful and uncertain task. No outcomes can be predicted or promised, and the process carries risks. We might realise what we took for granted in our lives is unstable and precarious, or question our feelings towards those closest to us, or find we can no longer do a job everyone expected us to.

Therapy led me to the place where I stepped out of character and could not find my way back. Limbo land. A frame without content, an uninscribed space, tabula rasa.

The preoccupation with window frames in the art of Eva Hesse.  Symptom writ large or the relief of the symptom displaced, displayed, transcended?

Eva Hesse was born in Hamburg in 1936 into a Jewish family. She was sent with her sister on a Kindertransport to Holland to flee the Nazis in 1938. Their parents joined them and they moved first to London, and then to New York in 1939. When Eva was nine, her parents separated and her father remarried. A few months later her mother, who had a history of depression, committed suicide by throwing herself from a window.


Who is the third walking beside you?

2011 October 6
Posted by marylouise50

Primarily because Lacan is counter-intuitive.  What lays process bare is  what we do not feel to be happening. The dissenting third party who walks alongside us, silently shaking  her head in disagreement, standing in a different place, walking faster or slower, standing still. Who is not us, not the known self.

So that as I/we wrote a passage inspired by the Dictee of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, the writer murdered  by an unknown assailant  just seven days after her work was published, as I wrote about the quest for faith in Catholicism, so I found myself writing about the cold, a woman frozen within, unable to take any sensual pleasure in the liturgy or  the beauty of incense and candles, the music of Palestrina, a woman  on the brink of falling in love with a garrulous older priest in order to escape the Divine yet again. So that her body might revive and thaw even if her heart remains still, a wasteland of ice and what looks like debris. The imprint, the traces left behind as we go about constructing various incomplete identities. What remains in process, what remains undetected.

Voices against which there is no defence

2011 October 5
Posted by marylouise50

Jacqueline Rose on Lacanian  analyst Darian Leader’s What is Madness?

It is fundamental to a Lacanian understanding of psychosis that something in the world of meaning has been breached. Usually, language just about holds to its rules, fixes the world into some kind of symbolic network, and passes without too much trouble between the one who is speaking and the one who is addressed. In psychosis it fragments or takes on grotesque, inflated proportions, voices emanating from nowhere or from God. Even in these deformations, however, there is something we might recognise. After all, language first comes at the infant as voices against which there is no defence.

The Golem as Husk

2010 December 20
Posted by marylouise50

In times of struggle or danger, there is a mythical creature that comes to aid those inclined to look to such things. For Ozick’s Puttermesser, it is Xanthippe, the daughter Ruth Puttermesser always wanted.

The golem as clay android, Adam’s dust kneaded into a shapeless husk. Insufficiently animated.

Tirade, the pointless deluge. Because I  fell in love with a golem.

I wrote and said to him: ‘You have a schizoid typology, not a personality disorder nor a character defect. You just don’t need others. You don’t mind hurting others. When you crawled out of the rubble of a decade of rough alcoholism, you made yourself anew because it seemed to you there was nothing left. You built a new person, a golem, and into him you breathed the cold lifeless air of reformation and recovery. And the rubble is all still there, like a bomb site.’

When I walked into your house I knew there was nobody home. I had fallen in love, virtually and intensely, with somebody who did not exist. I think this but do not say it, overtaken by exhaustion. The tirade is over.

‘You came from nowhere,’ he replies. Mildly, since he is not reactive, prides himself on staying impassive when provoked. The scaly red of psoriasis on his wrists, sore-looking against the pale skin. What can I read into this? That he is stressed, that the anxiety is there but out of sight.

‘Nowhere,’ he says. ‘You hurtled into my life without explanation or context and expected too much.’