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Shota Maehara's Blog

Interview with Bruce Fink (Professor of Psychology at Duquesne University)

Posted by Shota Maehara : 8月 14, 2011

Bruce Fink is Professor of Psychology at Duquesne University and a practicing psychoanalyst. He retranslated the Sheridan´s translation of the Ecrits (1966) of Lacan. He is the author of two brilliant introductions to Lacan: The Lacanian Subject: Between Language and Jouissance (1995), Princeton: Princeton University Press; Lacanian Psychoanalysis. Theory and Technique (1997), Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England: Harvard University Press. He is also co-editor of two collections of papers on Jacques Lacan and the translator of Lacan’s Seminar XX “Encore” and Seminar VIII.

One of the questions that a number of people have asked is how someone like yourself, who comes from the United States, became interested in Lacan. What motivated you to move in that direction?

I had been interested in psychoanalysis more peripherally while I was studying philosophy and political theory at Cornell. There I came across a professor named Richard Klein who had worked with Derrida and was teaching a course on Lacan and Derrida. It was at that time that I became very interested in Lacan’s notion of subjectivity as something radically different than the ego. I had not been particularly interested in forms of ego psychology and psychoanalysis in the States, whereas Lacan provided quite a different view of psychoanalysis, so I decided to go to France and stay a year or two to see how I would like it. I ended up staying much longer. My French was terrible when I first got there, but I started reading a lot and talking with people, and things got better. That is how my interest in Lacan started.

In the United States how do you find the status of the divide, for example, between ego psychology and the attempt to introduce some of the considerations that other more continentally derived forms of psychoanalysis might offer?

I think that is a difficult question. In my experience a lot of people who I would consider to be doing ego psychology, or some variant of that, would deny it vehemently. They see it is as passé and consider themselves to have moved well beyond it. Ultimately, however, from a clinical point of view it seems like they are doing the same thing, just conceptualizing it differently. People are more receptive now to some of the continental forms of thought. I think there is a certain amount of frustration among psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychoanalysts with a certain degree of stagnation in the Anglo-American tradition of psychoanalysis. Right now there is not the kind of effervescence of theoretical activity that there was, say, between the 1920s and 50s. In light of this more people are looking elsewhere. So I would say that as long as you do not present the continental viewpoint as a critique of what these people are doing, but rather as something they could add to or that might inform their work, then reception is possible.

One difference I have discerned between Anglo-American and Continental schools of psychoanalysis has been the respective emphasis they place on cognitive disabilities as the central pathology. The Continental approach seems more attuned to the limitations inherent in identifying a psychiatric or psychological pathology with cognitive disability. In fact, there was a conference here in Leuven on that very issue dealing with paranoia, in which the cognitive aptitude of the paranoid patient might well excel that of the average person. Do any of these concerns figure in the work that you do?

I myself have not encountered the distinction you mention between the two approaches. That may be more in the medical psychiatric tradition, which I work with a bit less. I work with a fair number of psychiatrists but they tend to be people trained in psychoanalysis. I do agree that by and large Americans pay much more attention to what can be objectively quantified, giving more weight to tests scores and that kind of thing. So you will often read in the description of a patient the I.Q. score or any sub-normal scores from other areas, whereas in Europe this tends to be downplayed.

I gather that your work as a practicing psychoanalyst informs much of your research and work in philosophy, or philosophical psychology. Can you comment on some of the tension or interesting relations between the clinical and pedagogical points of view?

I do not situate any of my work in philosophy per se. I think there are plenty of people in philosophy who are interested in psychoanalysis, especially its Lacanian manifestations. As for my own work I do not think there is that much tension between the clinical and the theoretical, because the one always grows out of the other. I see both as involved in a useful dialectic. I was just talking with Martin Stanton from England, who will be speaking later today, and he mentioned something that is very close to my own experience in regards to working with French analysts and American or British analysts. The British and American analyst immediately wants you to illustrate everything you say with case material, whereas the French will talk for hours and hours about theory without indicating how this might be applied to clinical work. Having been trained in the French tradition, I know what it is to deal with American colleagues who absolutely will neither sit nor read through a long theoretical presentation. Because of this, I have always tried to integrate the clinical material to illustrate what I am talking about. As you know, America is a very pragmatic country and looks for results, so if you talk endlessly about the “fundamental fantasy” in such a way that the usefulness of this idea in practice is not immediately obvious, it becomes next to impossible to motivate people to take the time to flog through Lacan’s work, which can be quite difficult, and work out what is happening. Now for the French, the utility of the idea is secondary. This idea is even reflected to some degree in a comment Lacan makes when he says that a cure comes as an after-thought in analysis, it is a side effect of the analysis. In the British and American context to say such a thing is heresy.

May I ask you about the English audience for Lacan. It seems that while Freudian psychoanalysis as a psychiatric tool is fighting for credibility in some circles in North America, Lacan seem to be gaining an ever-widening audience, particularly in critical theory. Now given the improved translations of Lacan that will be available, do you have any thoughts on the kind of reception or impact these new translations might have?

My sense is that the reception of Lacan is changing a bit in the States at this time. The initial reception by psychoanalysts, psychologists and psychiatrists was quite cold, but this has taken a turn in the last twenty years through the efforts of people like John Muller, Bill Richardson, and myself. We have attempted to present Lacan in a clinical manner to people in their own language, trying to overcome the difficulty of his texts by making his ideas more presentable to people. The fact is that most psychologists or psychiatrists will not read theoretical texts in the way that critical theorists, say people in Film Studies or Philosophy, would be inclined to do. They are just not used to dealing with texts like Lacan’s, and I think the new translations will help in the sense that it will make Lacan a lot more accessible and readable. This does not mean his work becomes transparent, because his work will never be transparent, yet I think my new translation does make it easier to grasp something more of Lacan. There are between eighty to one hundred pages of footnotes in the back of the book that will also assist in providing some context for people. So my hope is that this will help, at least to some degree, to modify Lacan’s audience in North America. In contrast to his growing influence in the general area of psychology, however, there is a turn away from Lacan’s work in the disciplines of Feminist Studies and Literary Criticism, possibly as a result of the desire in these disciplines to move on in search of the next big thing.

Would you agree that many of Freud’s ideas have infiltrated everyday consciousness to such an extent that they have become touchstones for our larger society, apart from their constructive role in a clinical setting?

You need to realize that the more these terms become vulgarized, one might say, or taken up into parochial discourse, the more they are simplified at the same time. So the more these terms are absorbed into a discipline like psychology, the less content that remains in any of these terms. In order to assimilate a term like the
unconscious you reduce it to something that it usually is not, or to its barest bones. We can see this if we just look at certain psychology journals that try to prove if Freud is right or wrong, for example, on the issue of whether dreams are wish fulfillment, or if there really is an unconscious. Of course, in the very presumption that the idea must be studied in this empirical way, they end up reducing the idea to something that it really is not, attempting to “prove” ideas that were never actual hypotheses of Freud in the first place. So I would say that lately there has been a spreading of Freudianism, which essentially takes away any power this discourse originally had. Now I think the situation is a bit different with regard to Lacan’s particular discourse, whose terms are difficult enough that they resist that kind of assimilation to some degree. Even in France today, where Lacan is fairly widely-read, there is not that much bandying about of his terms in everyday discourse, and this I think suggests something about how difficult he made it for people to assimilate. I believe he did this deliberately.

Would you agree that the larger appeal of Lacan, at least in philosophy, lies in his attempt to provide a general theory of the subject, rather than restrict his insights to clinical pathology alone?

I do think that Lacan takes psychoanalysis to a place in which it can provide a general theory of subjectivity. For Lacan this theory is an attempt to subvert a certain reading of Descartes’ cogito, in which —as he states in his lectures in the late 1960s — human subjectivity is essentially defined by a disjunction between thinking and being, in which the two shall never meet. There is no place where I am both thinking and I am. It is always one or the other. There is an alienation between the two or, as he sometimes puts it, a forced choice. I think we can see in this idea a general attempt to formulate what human subjectivity is about. He also tries to flesh out this definition through introducing such terms as the “Boromean knot”, which is a knot between the imaginary, the symbolic and the real. This is an idea that could be of great interest to philosophers, because it describes how the visual world, or the world of sensation, the world of language, and the real, are tied together.

You mentioned earlier in our conversation that Descartes is a counterpoint of sorts to Lacan. I wanted to ask you about some of the philosophers who most interested you before you committed yourself so wholeheartedly to psychoanalysis?

I was at Cornell and like many American universities it was predominantly analytic with one person who taught Kant, Hegel and Dostoyevsky. And so I managed to study a little bit of that while I was in college. After I finished I began to read Marx and Hegel quite a lot and Althusser. Strangely enough I came to psychoanalysis through critical theory, thinkers like Habermas, Marcuse and Adorno, yet it was actually through Deleuze and Guattari and their book Anti-Oedipus, that I first heard about Lacan.




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