Dialogue with Jacques-Alain Miller

Jacques-Alain Miller @copyright ECF
Jacques-Alain Miller @copyright ECF

The 53rd days of the École de la Cause freudienne focus on how psychoanalysis operates and the duty of interpretation. They will take place on November 18 and 19, 2023. Jacques-Alain Miller, its founder, is the son-in-law of Jacques Lacan whose seminars he publishes. Agnès Aflalo is the director of the Days.

I.Interview with Jacques-Alain Miller

Psychological consultations have exploded in Israel since the attacks, kidnappings and war, while the IDF recognizes for the first time the existence of suicides within its ranks, deaths due to “personal circumstances”. How can we explain such a relationship with death?

Jacques-Alain Miller: According to Freud, neurotics do better in times of war. In fact, they then distance themselves from their symptoms. In the current panic, another phenomenon is occurring: anxiety. A symptom conceals a truth hidden from the patient, it can be interpreted by the analyst. Anxiety is also a truth, but one that manifests itself clearly. It is not a question of interpreting it, but of dissolving it, at least calming it. We only know death through those of others. This is the one that worries you. There have certainly always been suicides in the IDF. The only question is why she has now decided to make them public. I don’t know, but I can imagine: it would be a question of reducing the number of soldiers who died in combat.

One of the last days of the ECF, was called the Norme Mâle, referred to Metoo. Since then the movement has been reversed, what we call the backlash. The return of the repressed which recalls Lacan’s phrase: “you are looking for a master, you will have him. ” What do you think ?

Jacques-Alain Miller: Lacan refers the normal to the masculine, because males form communities where each is similar to the other. On the other hand, a woman is always different from another, including herself. Certainly, the IDF includes women at all ranks, except the highest: this is a new fact, but the overall order remains masculine. Metoo is the attempt to make all women the same. This attempt was doomed to failure.

Christine Angot is a friend of psychoanalysis. Jacques-Alain Miller, you said it, you “like” Christine Angot who said on France Inter that she had not “liked” Last summer, the film by Catherine Breillat and Le Consentement, adapted from the book of Vanessa Spingora, the prey of pedophile Gabriel Matzneff. She accuses them of aestheticizing incest and pedophilia. What do you think?

Jacques-Alain Miller: Christine Angot’s writing is impassive, inflexible, cold as a mathematical theorem. That of Vanessa Springora is sentimental and quivering, she seeks beauty. Angot is indifferent to beauty; what interests him are the facts, as raw as possible.

Neige Sinno, celebrated by Annie Ernaux, in the New York Times, said things had changed thanks to Christine Angot. Is this also your opinion?

Jacques-Alain Miller: Christine Angot freed literature from the cult of beauty, emotion, and the ideal. She arrived like a fireball in the French literary world, which she demonetized.

How does psychoanalysis “operate” so as not to miss suffering by wanting to show it too much, identify it and thus discredit it?

Jacques-Alain Miller: We cannot do an analysis if we do not suffer. The psychoanalyst certainly does not discredit suffering. On the contrary, he respects it, takes it into consideration. What he is looking for is his cause.

II.Interview with Agnès Aflalo

Interpretation will be in the spotlight during the next conference of the École de la Cause freudienne. What is the main point? 

Agnès Aflalo: To grasp the crux of interpretation, we must ask ourselves: “What operates in an analysis? “. What operates are the words spoken by the analyst. Analysis is a practice of speech and speech only. And the unconscious is nothing other than the words of the analysand. The great secret of interpretation is to make him hear what he is saying unbeknownst to himself. The psychoanalyst welcomes the words of her analysand. But he also responds by interpreting. And as surprising as it may seem, the enigma, the oracle, the quote, a grunt sometimes, etc. are all forms of interpretation. It is gathered at the level of the words the subject speaks. It does not overlook them. Therefore, the kinds of interpretation are manyfold. An interpretation can be, as J.-A. Miller noted, an interpretation that is the reverse of that of the unconscious; or a scansion that creates a reading other than that of the analysand; or even a punctuation that reveals a new meaning. But it is above all a break in the session which prevents rounding up the session with meaning and brings back the opacity of the enjoyment of the symptom. Each time, the interpretation introduces a gap between what the subject says and what he means. Because the will to say which aims at a new meaning is also a will to enjoy which aims at a jouissens, as Lacan put it. Through his act, the analyst occupies the place of jouissance and he “makes it speak” so that it resonates between the words spoken in the session. Both the analyst and the analysand are bound by the ethics of bien dire. The analyst’s interpretation, that really has to hit the mark, responds to the analysand’s bien dire. During the ECF’s 53rd Conference, psychoanalysts will demonstrate how interpretation operates in an analysis.

How do we judge an interpretation to be right?   

Agnès Aflalo: Lacan said that when an interpretation was right, one felt it pass through your gut. An interpretation is neither right nor wrong. It is not judged by the response of the analysand deeming it right or wrong. It is judged on the effects it produces, i.e. the return of memories, of events pinned down by master signifiers; or else the interpretation can disturb enjoyment enough for the subject to perceive his complacency towards it all the while suffering from it. When the interpretation causes a real stir, the subject can draw a series of consequences and construct the axes of a fantasy which imposes its iron law on the symptoms. Speaking is within everyone’s reach. But for the analyst, the use of speech is unparalleled. It is unique.

Do analysts interpret the way they did in Freud’s time? 

Agnès Aflalo:

No. The unconscious of the past lent itself to Oedipal interpretations. The fault was attributed to the Other: Dad, Mom, etc. But the symbolic has weakened over time. Nowadays, the unconscious is made up of real signifiers. And it is the act of the analyst which produces the shift from the real unconscious to the transferential unconscious, and the time it takes for the analysis to take place. The unconscious never stops encrypting the signifier to produce enjoyment. Through his interpretation, the psychoanalyst can go behind the discourse of the unconscious. But he must remember that the unconscious is not only the gagged meaning of a desire longing to express itself. It is also a desire of jouissance due to the real signifiers which have marked the body of the subject.

There are therefore interpretations which aim at desire, but also interpretations which aim at jouissance. When the analysis comes to an end, the interpretation carried by the analyst’s body can lead the analysand to an encounter with an inconsistent and incomplete Other. After having freed himself from his love of truth, after crossing the fantasy, the analysand knows that the unconscious is real. This ending of the analysis involves the satisfaction of having turned the place of the real of jouissance into the place of no one. During the Conference, we will be fortunate to hear a new Analyst of the School describe the end of her analysis.

How topical is the theme of interpretation ?

Agnès Aflalo:

People have never expressed themselves as much as they do today. We talk about ourselves all the time, even in the most intimate detail, particularly on social networks. To the extent that for some, it is enough to say: “I am what I say I am” to think that they really are. There are different ways of doing so: I’m dys, HIP, trans, autistic, etc. This self-nomination wills to no longer be a symptom, but a lifestyle which tends to prohibit any questioning, any interpretation, as if the being had become transparent to itself.

However, experience shows that we must go through the Other again because self-affirmation does not deliver relief from the discomfort experienced. The being retains its opacity. Psychoanalysis welcomes everyone’s differences without prejudice, and it invites everyone to produce what is most unique. Psychoanalysis is therefore not normative. This does not mean, however, that it agrees to bow to identity politics. Such politics, in fact, are powerless to treat the suffering these subjects testify to.

Any more news regarding interpretation?

Agnès Aflalo: Yes. Because for over two decades, our democracies have been penetrated by a force that “pushes for the law”. Indeed, many bills aim to regulate the training of psychologists and the multiple therapies that promise happiness. Happiness, which is a recent idea, is a political matter. For some democracies, like the USA, the right to happiness is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. For others, like France, the legislator is expected to make it happen. The promises of happiness are as manyfold as psychological therapies. This is why, if the legislator is poorly informed, the demand for happiness can lead to bills that infringe on the very freedom of speech. And without freedom of expression, there is no possible interpretation. This is not acceptable. The citizen knows what he wants while the subject of the unconscious does not know where his good lies. This conference will demonstrate the public utility of interpretation. The legislator must not gag the subject of the unconscious.

Furthermore, beyond the – quite mythical – right to happiness in each request addressed to the psychologist, there is a demand for satisfaction. Psychoanalysis rather promises relief and calls on the subject to the effort of bien dire in order to understand his symptoms. So, ultimately, it is possible to extract a core of jouissance and make of the rest a source of satisfaction. During the conference, psychoanalysts who practice privately and in institutions will present their work, evoking a wide range of symptoms in children, adolescents and adults.

But will the conference also be an opportunity to celebrate? 

Agnès Aflalo: Of course! After the COVID years, this is the first conference that will be bringing us together in such large numbers. It is an opportunity to see our colleagues again. Regular breaks will allow for discussion. There is the joy of a conviviality that only the presence of bodies allows. And then of course, on Saturday evening, we will be hosting the party our team has prepared. This is an event not to be missed.

About the Author
Alexandre Gilbert is the director of the Chappe gallery.