Twenty years ago when I had been considering tentatively starting work as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, a senior colleague made it clear in an interview with me that, “analysis was not to be thought of as a way of getting women, you know.. gratification leads to repression.” I was a little put out by this implied criticism, this insinuation, indeed projective identification¹.
However, my colleague’s comments were right on both counts. Firstly, psychoanalysis² occurs in a state of deprivation for both participants, abstinence on many levels. Secondly, gratification of demand, sexual or otherwise, leads to closure. The silence on the part of the analyst, the gap, the lack must remain. The rule in analysis is “no touching”, because touching can mean many things. On one level it may be supportive, on another, infantile comfort, yet on another, sexual or erotic, and so on. It is not necessarily what we say it is. Analysis is haunted by the erotic³. The carefully crafted theory and practice that comes down to us from Freud (in a number of different forms) both provokes and bars the erotic. Free association, saying whatever comes into your mind without censorship, tilts towards the erotic, towards chaos, the anarchic, while the emphasis on words and language, the “talking cure”, the formalities of the sessions, the couch, the payments, tend in the direction of reason and the secondary processes.
Above all, the quality of the attention that the analyst gives over an extended period of time to the patient is attention like no other. No one has ever listened to us as carefully and as freely as an analyst does. Perhaps, only the Winnicottian mother comes close. This analytic listening creates in the patient a transferential longing, which may be a repetition of an early experience which happened, or didn’t happen but should have done and has been unconsciously longed for ever since. The patient falls in love with the analyst.
But Freud, in his paper on the erotic transference (Freud 1915), was quick to point out that this love is produced by the artificial setting of the analysis itself, by the position that the analyst has within the structure. To Freud’s great credit, he pointed out that when his women patients fell in love with him, they fell in love with an illusion, not with his alleged real charms. He also pointed out that this love for the analyst, archaic in origin, acts as a resistance to the analytic process. The patient would rather fall in love with the analyst than do the work of analysis, which in the end would free the patient from his incestuous fixations and enable him to love others. He also noted the countertransference temptation of the analyst to exploit the situation. However, instead of responding sexually, Freud advocates the stoical work of analysis to uncover the infantile prototypes of this love, driven by the persistent transference repetition.
To put things another way, following Laplanche (1987), the infant, in a mythical inaugural moment, is seduced by the mother. As the mother is feeding, changing, rocking her infant, she is also deriving erotic pleasure (mostly unconsciously) from her play with the infant. The infant is then haunted by what Laplanche designates as an “enigmatic signifier” coming from the erotic mother, which it cannot decipher, some hidden pleasurable/dangerous, seductive quality in that relationship, which means from that point on it will be prone to other seductions in an effort to understand this primal seduction. We must emphasise here that the mother is not acting in any consciously perverse way towards her infant. This seduction is in the nature of life itself. As Baudrillard is fond of claiming, the universe was seduced before it was produced. Later in life, the subject (of seduction) will be vulnerable to a multitude of further seductions, key among these will be counselling and therapies of all kinds, in an effort to make sense of the primal secret.
At the beginning the infant is the erotic “plaything” of the mother. Breast feeding is an intensely erotic activity. How many mothers will say that they want to “eat” their babies in the sensual love they have for the bodies of their babies, the smell, the touch, the sounds, etc. These erotic games, although intensely enjoyed, fail to be understood and translated by the infant, who is also infans – without words. Later, post-Oedipally, armed with language, the child will try to make sense of what is now called “sex”, only to discover the impossibility of doing so. Education and enlightenment may follow, but the erotic remains outside any educational process. Something is profoundly missing in his life. The child may become vulnerable to paedophiles who know all about the secret longing of the erotic need. Later still, the adolescent will enjoy the seductions of others. Or, addictions or gambling may offer a return to the longed for enjoyment.
But our chief concern here will be the seduction of analysis, which with its mystery, its ceremonials of payment, the couch, the privacy, the confidentiality, the seclusion, all activate the repressed archaic longings to be a plaything again, to give up the onerous work of analysis, to destroy the analysis, in the acting-out of the oldest gratifications. Patients will say, coming to the analyst is not unlike coming to a prostitute. The analyst for her part has also experienced the primal seduction by her mother which leaves an unanswered question for her also about the enigmatic desire of the first big other. The analyst had better be aware of this possibility, primarily through her own analysis, lest she act out also. In fact the choice of profession may be unconsciously fuelled by such desire.
As is well known, Freud wanted to distance himself from seduction (4), preferring analysis to hypnosis and the pressure technique, and often refuting the accusation that analysis proceeded from suggestion. Analysis was to be productive not seductive, productive of interpretations, making the unconscious conscious, strengthening the ego. And in our current time, the drive is on for the professionalisation and absolute clarity about the nature of the therapeutic relationship. All risks to the patient must be minimised. Everything is currently being done to exorcise desire beyond language. However, in the present climate of litigation, what has been exorcised (we think!) returns on all sides. This makes current therapy trainings, cautious, efficient and repressive. Both therapists and students have to be carefully screened. The pressure has come from the consumer lobbyists of the EU. Consumers want to know what they are buying irrespective of whether the purchase is coffee or therapy. It all makes very good sense. The therapist is protected, by insurance, registration, the good name of the training institute or the professional association. The client knows that her therapist is sound. However, all of this transparency leaves out the radical otherness of the unconscious. The freedom of the patient is compromised before the analysis gets started, hedged around as it now is with all these safeguards. Freud was clear that the dangerous erotic aspects of the transference must not be acted upon, but at the same time they must not be avoided or ruled out. In the current climate of fear, this is just what seems to be happening. The patient is now not allowed to approach her question, the question which is evoked by the analysis itself. The love that she has missed (irrespective of how well cared for in childhood), the excitement left behind, the return of the yearning for the One, is there not a danger that intimations of this lost past are now deemed pathological by both patient and analyst alike?
What are we to be protected from, we might ask? The answer to many is obvious: bad, exploitative practitioners (and patients). This is clear. The public must be protected. But if analysis is to be more than just a simulation of itself, indeed if it is to be ethical, there must be complete freedom to speak and to fantasise (5). The analytic encounter must remain open. It stops short of many things including even touch, but freedom of expression including erotic longings must not be elided. There is a real danger now that the analytic process will be invaded by a professional growth promoting countertransference which defends against risk, the erotic, the perverse, the addictive, indeed life itself.
I was moved, when I heard Christopher Bollas speak in Dublin, to analytic practitioners, many years ago (the lecture was not published), about the need to respect and pay careful attention to the positive transference in its various manifestations. The negative transference is relatively easy to endure and interpret! The positive transference (at its deepest level) on the other hand is bound up with the core of subjectivity. To interpret that endangers the very soul of the person, what Winnicott called the incommunicado element that if exposed, according to Winnicott, is worse than rape. The love that the patient offers is to be heard, but not interpreted or acted upon.
The danger with the over-professionalisation of psychoanalysis, however necessary it might be politically, is the loss of human solidarity essential to the project. Patients, clients (these are both the wrong words) are in danger of returning to the status of objects, to be interpreted, to be worked on, to be cured, in short to be eclipsed of their very subjectivity. Patients may willingly collude in this objectification, anxious to find out more about themselves (gaining insight), losing the ability to be themselves in the rush to sort out their “baggage”. Patients and analysts become embroiled in this new puritan superego which demands emotional clarity and health promotion on all fronts.
The institutionalisation of psychoanalysis suffers from the same problematic as the institutionalisation of Christianity. Institutionalisation may be necessary to pass on and safeguard the message, but in so doing, it creates a lie that leads to the inquisition, the murder of the secret, the reversal of all the values that were the original inspiration.
In psychoanalytic terms, all will be done when the transference is resolved. But Lacan has insisted that the transference is never resolved. In his seminar on transference (1960-61), unpublished m English, Lacan puts it thus:
“And as regards this hand which stretches towards the fruit, towards the rose, towards the log which suddenly bursts into flames, first of all to tell you that its gesture of reaching, of poking, is closely linked to the maturation of the fruit, to the beauty of the flower, to the flaming of the log, but that when this movement of reaching, of drawing, of poking, the hand has gone far enough towards the object, if from the fruit, from the flower, from the log, a hand emerges which stretches out to encounter your hand, and that at that moment it is your hand which is fixed in the closed fullness of the flower, in the explosion of a hand that bursts into flames, what is produced at that point is love.” (6 )
Nothing is resolved in psychoanalysis, because the question of the erotic (transference) can never be resolved, it can only be explored by the seduction of psychoanalysis itself. On the other side of work, technique, interpretation, the production of meaning, lies nothing other than seduction. That is to allow oneself to be seduced, to be led along the pathways of free association, eschewing judgement, mastery, cure, and the whole labour of work on the self, which is itself a defence against seduction.
The state of mind that allows seduction to occur is termed by Bion, “reverie”. Prototypically, it is child in the presence of the mother whose erotic enjoyment of the child initiates the seduction of the child by the world. Just as the mother stops short of actual sexual contact with the child, which, as we know closes down the quest for life, so too must the analyst not engage in actual sexual seduction of the patient, which as my colleague pointed out, leads to repression. It is simply enough for the analyst to be present, relatively quiet, and fully attentive for the seductive process to have a chance of coming to life.
It seems to be that psychoanalysis faces two ways. Firstly, towards the production of meanings via interpretations, reconstructions, insights, working through, strengthening the ego, and so on. Secondly, towards seductions and deconstruction of stable realities and meanings, where both participants allow themselves to be caught by the flow of signifiers and affects which lead not to the reality-principle but to the uncertainty principle and the edge of the unknown. Modern psychoanalysis, post-Lacan and post-Bion, seems to privilege the second strategy, which is really an anti-strategy, a negative capability, opposed to production, self- mastery and knowing. One can be seduced by anything, including psychotherapeutic ideologies themselves, and the whole professionalisation of the process. However, developmentally, seduction always precedes production. Production is fragile, seduction is strong. The idealisation of production, growth and capital in the psychical economy as well as the real economy turns out to be just one more seduction, one more illusion, to trap and charm us.
Bollas had something similar to seduction in mind when he spoke of the ”transformational object”. Here, he envisages the mother functioning as a source of transformation of the infant’s self experience prior to any representational knowing. For Bollas the mother’s caring activities act as our first aesthetic experience, the first experience of beauty (of seduction), the trace of which will inform our search for aesthetic experiences during the course of our lives. His very interesting point is that Freud, by eliding the importance of the mother infant relation during the pre-Oedipal period, unconsciously acts out this elision in the establishment of the analytic situation, which, as we noted above, repeats dedicated maternal attentiveness. The subject enters analysis with the hope of transformation. Bollas says:
‘Thus, in the adult life, the quest is not to possess the object; it is sought in order to surrender to it as a process that alters the self where the subject-as- supplicant now feels himself to be the recipient of enviro-somatic caring, identified with metamorphoses of the self. I will argue, the analytic ecology enacts what Freud excluded: the early object relation of mother and child.’ (Bollas 1979, p84-85, my italics)
He suggests that, ‘What Freud could not analyse in himself- his relation to his own mother – was acted out in his choice of the ecology of psychoanalytic technique’ (p97). Against the purely productive analyst, he warns present day analysts: ‘[If] we insist, at least in more classical formulations, on proceeding to analytic “work”. Such work cannot take place, I maintain, until the analyst has a full understanding of his own profession as a countertransference enactment of an early object setting and relation’ (p100). Bollas notes that the primordial experience of transformation remains a memory which will be re-enacted in the search for transformative cultural experiences ‘that promise total change’ (p99). As well as new cars, new jobs, new relationships, and so on, Bollas acknowledges that this relation can become fanatical as in revolutionary ideologies which promise total transformation.
Bellas emphasises the mother’s caring activities, he allies himself with the British Independent tradition (see Rayner 1991). Added to caring is also the darker side of the mother, namely seduction (Winnicott’s “Id-mother”). With seduction there is no knowing how things will go. The Independents down play the seductive erotic favouring the nurturing mother, the object-relation is primary. Care is primary (7).
Classical psychoanalysis privileges the extension of reason and meaning in psychical life in an attempt to exorcise the primordial seductive power of the mother with the dead Law of the father. The feminine becomes identified, as always, with the diabolical. Seduction operates in disregard for truth and meaning, preferring instead, the secret, the enigma, the opacity and illusion of appearance. Seduction secretly circulates in the analytic process displacing subjectivity, meaning and putting everything into play. Words and ideas seduce each other, in the joke, the flash of wit, the word play, the pun, the delirious polysemy of language. The son of alcoholic parents talks about “bottling-up” his feelings; the man whose father is a womaniser dreams of “raking” the autumn leaves; a French analyst reports that his patient dreams of giving him “six roses”. The patient’s father died of cirrhosis of the liver. In Freud’s case of the Ratman (see Freud, 1909), ratten equals rats, from there to raten (instalments), spielratte, (the father’s gambling debt), heiraten, (to marry), Ibsen’s Rat-Wife in Little Eyolf derived from the Pied Piper of Hamelin who enticed the rats into the water and lured the children out of the town. His magic word for his lady was Glejisamen, which it turns out was a mixture of Gisela (her name) samen (semen) and amen (said at the end of the prayers he said to ward off evil).
Language seduces itself in an endless play of meaning and non-meaning, of revelation and seclusion, appearance and disappearance, indeed humour. Consider the chief of the Irish Rugby Football Union being hard-pressed by a reporter about the Republic’s involvement with the all white South African rugby team. He says “I’ve talked about this problem until I’m black in the face”. Consider some of Freud’s (1900) brief dream interpretations. A kiss in a car equals autoerotic; a broken limb is a broken marriage; overflowing water is superfluous; a deformed skull is a childhood impression; lustre equals lustful. All this play of the primary process is what we prefer, as Freud indicates in the joke book: ‘It must not be forgotten that the nonsense in a joke is an end itself since the intention of recovering the old pleasure in nonsense is among the joke work’s activities’ (Freud 1905, p234). This makes the so-called joke work, and its corollary, the dream work the ultimate seducers, dissemblers and distorters of meaning.
According to Baudrillard, only those who lie outside seduction are ill. Psychoanalysis believes that it treats disorders of the sexual drives, when the real disenchantment comes from the disappearance of seduction. What else can castration mean, asks Baudrillard? ‘To be deprived of seduction is the only true form of castration’ (Baudrillard, 1979, p121). Seduction returns us to the sovereignty of the world, to the domain of the Rule rather than the Law. Here the stakes are higher, in the order of cruelty, tragedy, the erotic, the challenge, the duel, the encounter… something necessary and rigorous.. Death remains the ultimate risk in every symbolic pact’ (ibid, pi24). His point is, there is nothing necessarily tender about seduction. It conveys a trans-human sense, a risk.
Therefore, at the heart of the erotic transference lies not love, but seduction. A seduction which is related to life itself and its origin in the seduction by the mother. When an analysis is entered into, both participants, however minimally, enter into a scene of seduction. There is no knowing how things will go. Seduction exceeds both participants. Both are subjected to it without knowing. True, the analyst is there to maintain the structure, but there is something nameless that always exceeds it. The structure (related to psychoanalytic technique and ultimately the dead law of the father) is inert, lifeless, unless enlivened by the effects of seduction. The attempt to rigorously exclude seduction and all risks (insurance policies), deadens the process and becomes seductive in itself. All the complex ideological battles within psychoanalysis, as well as its recent professionalisation, can be seen as systematic attempts to stop the play of seduction, and end up becoming immensely seductive in themselves. Suggestion, hypnosis, all seductive effects have not gone away, but surround the whole theoretical edifice in spite of its reasonable and scientific pretensions.
The discovery of psychoanalysis is that the unconscious seduces, lures us away from stable meanings and certainties, pulling us towards the archaic traces lost in what Freud referred to as infantile amnesia and repression. Psychoanalysis rests on this boundary between production and seduction with the stakes heavily weighted towards the latter. But to designate seduction as pathological, to call it resistance to the work of analysis is to only see things in a very limited perspective. One might just as well assert that the work of analysis is resistance to seduction, a joke not lost on some critics of analysis: you mean you analyse your life…the meaning of life!
No one knows for certain how many therapists actually have sex with their clients. While all guidelines are clear this would be an abuse of professional ethics, the risk remains. Furthermore, this risk is the hidden driving force of the analysis, its secret, its challenge, its power. However, it must remain hidden.
With the media’s intense coverage and outing of abuse of all kinds and the generalised break-down of trust and confidence in all human relationships, it is not surprising to come across the following on the Internet:
Therapy Abuse Support List
‘The Therapy Abuse List is an Electronic Peer Support Discussion List open to men and women alike. It provides a place where therapy abuse survivors can share their stories, and give/receive support to/from one another.
Who participates on the list? Anyone, male or female, who has been abused in psychotherapy or counselling whether it be by a pastor, doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist, lay counsellor, or other such therapist.’
Not surprisingly, the same search turns up pages on child abuse, diametrically opposed positions on False Memory Syndrome as well as abuse by therapists. There is a direct line, so it is believed, between the abuse of the child by a trusted adult and the abuse of a patient by a trusted therapist, now designated “the-rapist”. A logic of suspicion and paranoia now surrounds therapy of all kinds. A splitting has occurred that deems all helpers as potential abusers and all patients as innocent potential victims. Here the play of seduction, in the transitional space, has been closed by the seductive power of the alleged real of seduction. The erotic which should remain hidden has been forced into the open.
The pain of loss during childhood, so clearly outlined by Melanie Klein, has been converted wholesale into the pain of being the victim; the erotically tinged yearning for the lost other transformed into revenge against the other. The outing of risk, in the guise of protecting patients, has the ironic effect of repressing the real pain of loss which psychoanalysis designates as inherent in the ambivalence of life itself.
1. Here one is forced to carry someone else’s phantasy and for a time you feel controlled by the other’s thoughts. For some time, you cannot get them out of your mind. What was being attributed to me, a young potential analyst, perhaps through envy, may have been part of this analyst’s fantasy life.
2. I shall be confining my remarks generally to psychoanalytic therapy.
3. The word erotic here is used in the sense that Bataille (1957) uses it. Bataille understands eroticism as our primordial desire in (separated) life to return to a lost continuum through excess, transgression, celebration, sexual licence, sacrifice, violence, the potlatch. Compare this with the later Freud, who, in his final theory of the instincts, posits a life and death drive. The life drive is referred to as Eros, which creates larger and larger unities. The erotic, in the sense that it is being used in this paper, is closer to Freud’s conception of the death drive, or to his original conception of the erotic as anarchic and dangerous.
4. We do not want to fall into the trap of Masson (1984) who attacked Freud for allegedly denying the “truth” of the seduction of children, what we now call sexual abuse. The early analysts did not ignore the abuse of children, but crucially included the child’s fantasy. (See, for instance, Stanton, 1990, p104ff)
5. The real difficulty here is with so-called training analyses. I myself have questioned analytic training bodies as to why they so limit the range of so-called training analysts who are deemed suitable to analyse their trainees. Very often these analysts are also teachers on the courses. So what freedom does the analysand have when their analyst also teaches them each week and whose colleagues will be in on the final assessments? How can she reveal her perverse imaginings, her deepest longings if in the end she may be deemed “unsuitable” or a “risk”, and her large investment in the course and a possible future career put in jeopardy? Immediately, the analysand is locked into false incestuous double-binds, which make true free association highly unlikely.
6. I am indebted to Cormac Gallagher of St Vincent’s Hospital, Elm Park, Dublin, for this translation of Lacan’s seminar.
7. Here, I would claim the object relations and the concept of care are being used as a defence against the erotic and its aleatory and seductive effect, thus keeping going the long tradition of psychoanalysis of downplaying seduction, as the next paragraph exemplifies.
Bataille, G. (1957) Eroticism Paris: Editions de Minuit Trans. Mary Dalwood. London: Marion Boyars Ltd., 1962, paperback 1987.
Baudrillard, 3. (1979) Seduction. Paris: Editions Galilee, Trans. Singer, B. London: Culture Texts.
Bollas, C. (1979) ‘The transformational object’. In Int. J Psycho-Anal 60: 97-107, reprinted in Kohon, G. Ed. (1986) The British School of Psychoanalysis, pp83-100. London: Free Association Books.
Freud, S. (1900) The Interpretation of Dreams. Pelican Freud Library No.4, 1976.
Freud, S. (1905) Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious. Pelican Freud Library No.6., 1976
Freud, S. (1909) ‘Notes upon a case of obsessional neurosis. (The “rat man”)’ in, Case Histories II ‘Rat Man, Schreber, ‘Wolf Man’, Female Homosexuality. In Pelican Freud Library, No.9.
Freud, S. (1915) ‘Further recommendations in the technique of psycho-analysis. Observations on transference-love’. In Collected Papers. Vol II. pp377-391. London: Hogarth.
Laplanche, 3. (1987) New Foundations for Psychoanalysis, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, trans. Macey, D. Oxford: Blackwell.
Masson, 3. (1984) The Assault on Truth. London: Faber.
Rayner, E. (1991) The Independent Mind in British Psychoanalysis. London: Free Association Books.
Stanton, M. (1990) Sandor Ferenczi: Reconsidering Active Interpretation. London: Free Association Books.
Rob Weatherill is in practice as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and supervisory analyst, member of IPA, IFPP, APPI and ICP. He teaches psychoanalysis. His books include: Cultural Collapse, published by Free Association Books (1994), The Sovereignty of Death, published by Rebus Press (1998), and he is editor of The Fatal Drive, to be published by Rebus Press this year.
Address: 12 Crosthwaite Park, East, Dun Laoghaire. Tel. 2805332.