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Psychoanalysis and Ontology

Alenka Zupani

Psychoanalysis (in its Freudo-Lacanian lineage) has been, among other things, a very
powerful conceptual invention, with direct and significant resonances in philosophy. The
encounter between philosophy and psychoanalysis has turned out to be one of the most
productive construction sites in contemporary philosophy. It has produced some stunning new
and original readings of classical philosophers and of classical philosophical concepts (such
as subject, object, truth, representation, real), and opened a genuinely new vein in
contemporary philosophy. At the moment when philosophy itself was just about ready to
abandon some of its classical notions as belonging to its own metaphysical past from which it
was eager to escape, there came Lacan and taught us an invaluable lesson: it is not these
notions themselves that are problematic, what is problematic (in some ways of doing
philosophy) is the disavowal or effacement of the inherent contradiction (antagonism) they
all imply, and are part of. Which is why by simply abandoning these notions we are
abandoning the battlefield, rather than winning any significant battles. In a similar, albeit not
symmetrical way, psychoanalysis (also as clinic) has gained a lot by hanging on to, and
operating with philosophical concepts, and by playing a part in philosophical debates. For in
this way it remained itself involved in the general intellectual landscape and its antagonisms,
which it has itself brought to light, rather than closing itself in a safely circumscribed
specialized field of expertise and practice. And this was precisely the divide that Lacan kept
pointing out, and which has been at the heart of his quarrel with (that is his expulsion from)
the IPA: the divide between psychoanalysis as a recognized therapeutic practice,
appropriately confined to, or allocated, its field/feud, and what appeared as his intellectual
(and practical) extravagances which were, quite literally, all over the place (philosophy,
science, literature). It was here, and not simply in the battle between different
psychoanalytic orientations, that Lacan situated the real divide. Intellectualization was the
key-word and the key insult referring to what he has been doing in his teaching (which
itself took place outside of the psychoanalytic practice, and had a universal destination) the
insult coming from analysts which Lacan didnt hesitate insulting back, calling them
orthopedists of the unconscious and guarantors of the bourgeois dream. The alleged
intellectualization was not due simply to Lacans persona (his own intelligence, erudition,
ambition), but to what he recognized to be at the very core of Freuds discovery, causing its
main scandal: the Freudian unconscious (starting with the unconscious sexuality), was not
some realm of obscure and dirty thoughts, its main scandal was, as he puts it, that it was so
If, however, the encounter between psychoanalysis and philosophy has proved to be a most
inspiring and fruitful construction site for both, it seems that avoiding this site is lately
becoming more and more of the mot dordre (or fashion) in both fields. Philosophers have
rediscovered pure philosophy, and particularly ontology; engaged as they are in producing
new ontologies, they see little interest in what looks at best as a regional theory corresponding
to a particular therapeutic practice. (Lacanian) psychoanalysts, on the other hand, are busy
rediscovering the experimental (clinical) core of their concepts, which they sometimes like
to present as their holy grail the ultimate real that they, and nobody else, are in touch with.
In this respect the seminar will go both methodologically and ideologically against the
grain of the times we live in, refusing to abandon the construction site in favor of more
polished conceptual products, services or singular experiences. The seminar will be
looking at and insisting on some of the key points and notions of the encounter between
psychoanalysis and philosophy, which cannot be reduced to one or the other (nor to their
sum), but constitute a genuine new way of doing philosophy. It will focus particularly on
the ontological relevance and consequences of some of the key Freudo-Lacanian