chapter  18
PSYCHOANALYSIS
ByARKADY PLOTNITSKY
Pages 11

Introduced by Sigmund Freud at the intersection of science and (indirectly but importantly) literature and art, psychoanalysis has had a long history of complex and often stormy relationships with both science and literature, and with other arts. The relationships between psychoanalysis and science have been particularly acrimonious because the scientific claims of psychoanalysis have been seen as controversial and often dismissed altogether. I shall here adopt a contrasting position and, while recognizing the complexity of these relationships, focus on their productive nature, more in accord with the history of the relationships between psychoanalysis and literature, although these relationships have not been free from controversy either. The topic is vast, and even sketching it poses difficulties and forces one to

make decisions unfortunately limiting the argument. First, I shall restrict myself to psychoanalytic theory and bypass psychoanalytic practice, although psychoanalytic theory is grounded in this practice. It is, however, psychoanalytic theory that is of primary interest and significance for my subject, since my discussion is concerned with psychoanalysis in relation to science and literature, and thus also with the relationships between literature and science. The applications of psychoanalytic techniques in the study of science and, especially, literature (e.g., in biographical and historical studies of science and, most extensively, in considering literary authors, characters, and texts) are important, and these approaches have a long and well-known history. Nevertheless, as I write this, conceptual affinities and interactions among psychoanalysis, literature, and science appear to be particularly significant and implicative. My second decision is largely to focus on the concept of the unconscious. By

this I mean a new and specific concept of the unconscious, that is, the concept whose conceptual architecture is shaped by other key psychoanalytic concepts, such as repression, anxiety, pleasure and reality principles, the death drive, and so forth. This psychoanalytic grounding of the “unconscious” must be kept in mind, although only some of these other concepts, most particularly “consciousness,” will be addressed here. The concept of the unconscious is, however, the greatest conceptual discovery of psychoanalysis, and focusing on it will be

the most effective way to explore the relationships among psychoanalysis, literature, and science. My third decision is to center my discussion on two founding thinkers, Freud

himself and Jacques Lacan. The body of major psychoanalytic work, even as concerns the connections of psychoanalysis to literature and science, cannot of course be limited to Freud and Lacan, and it is not my intention to diminish the contributions of other figures. Nevertheless, first, Freud and Lacan have exerted the greatest conceptual influence on psychoanalytic thinking. Second, I would contend that the relationships between psychoanalysis and science (including mathematics), and among psychoanalysis, science, and literature, found their most dramatic and poignant manifestations in Freud and Lacan. It is tempting to formulate my grounding thesis in one simply stated sentence:

Freud is a “scientist” and Lacan is a “mathematician” of psychoanalysis. Freud, a neuroscientist and a medical doctor by training, thinks like a natural scientist, say, a biologist. The genealogy of psychoanalysis, from the work of Freud’s key precursors to his early Project for Scientific Psychology (1895), is primarily scientific, and in developing psychoanalysis Freud had a scientific project in mind. By contrast, Lacan thinks as a mathematician: a certain mathematical or mathematicallike thinking shapes Lacan’s psychoanalytic theorizing, as against that of Freud, for whom the biological sciences appear to have been the primary models. Lacan thinks as a scientist, too, but, in contrast to Freud, more like a twentieth-century mathematical physicist, especially a quantum physicist, say, Werner Heisenberg or P.A.M. Dirac, whose thinking is of course more rigorously mathematical. Indeed, as I shall explain, this may be a better parallel, especially given that both Lacan’s thought and quantum theory are shaped by an analogous radical epistemology, which Freud was hesitant to adopt, even though he might have realized it to be possible. In particular, Lacan understands what he calls “the Real” in the same way that quantum theory understands quantum objects and processes (the quantum “Real”). While inferred through their indirect effects upon phenomena that can be observed, they are not only beyond observation but also beyond any description, or even conception (see Plotnitsky 2002a). Correlatively, in both theories, chance acquires a central role; and quantum-mechanical predictions are essentially probabilistic in character. It would not be possible to trace the history of the ideas and ways of

thinking leading to Freud’s and then Lacan’s conceptuality and epistemology. This history reaches as far back as the pre-Socratics. Kant’s work, however, appears unavoidable:

We have … no elements for the cognition of things except insofar as an intuition can be given corresponding to these concepts, consequently … we have cognition of no object as a thing in itself [noumenon], but only insofar as it is an object of sensible intuition, i.e. as an appearance [phenomenon]; from which follows the limitation of all even possible

speculative cognition of reason [Vernunft] to mere objects of experience. Yet … even if we cannot cognize [kennen] these same objects as things in themselves, we at least must be able to think [denken] [about] them as things in themselves. To cognize an object, it is required that I be able to prove its possibility (whether by the testimony of experience from its actuality or a priori through reason). But I can think whatever I like, as long as I do not contradict myself, i.e., as long as my concept is a possible thought, even if I cannot give any assurance whether or not there is a corresponding object somewhere within the sum total of all possibilities. But in order to ascribe objective validity to such a concept … something more is required. This “more,” however, need not be sought in theoretical sources of cognition; it may also lie in practical ones.