Vaia Tsolas, PhD
Report on Pulsion’s inaugural Symposium of Nov 5, 2022
“Sexuality and its Discontents: The Erasure of the Feminine in Our Days”
Vaia Tsolas, PhD
Pulsion, the drive, despite being a central concept for Freud at the border concept between body and mind, has been progressively jettisoned in contemporary mainstream American psychoanalytic theorizing; mentioned, if at all, as a misguided concept of limited historical value. The new Pulsion Institute highlights this omission and its devastating effects for psychoanalytic theory and practice by taking vigorous exception to this misconception. Pulsion challenges institutional repression with a mission to push the drive forward, returning it to a preeminent theoretical and clinical place in psychoanalysis. Pulsion’s inaugural symposium that took place in New York City on Nov 5, 2022, aimed to broadcast the necessity of the Freudian drives’ return. As a case example, the symposium focused on contemporary social problematics of the erasure of the feminine and its consequences for both the psyche and the social, problematics that manifest in disaffection, acting on the body with compulsions and addictions, as well as the broader phenomena of passion for ignorance, passivity and submission to the rise of fundamentalisms.
Pulsion investigates the intertwined relationship of social and psychic. In American psychoanalysis we see the psychic and social having been split into the academic application of psychoanalytic thought and the application of psychoanalytic theory to clinical practice. Pulsion brings into being an institute constructed to think across these arbitrary divides; for this reason the symposium brings together practicing psychoanalysts to think alongside psychoanalytically oriented academics in order to develop new concepts with respect to emerging clinical and social realities. In so doing, Pulsion’s intervention via this inaugural event highlights the erasure of the drives as the cornerstone concept in psychoanalysis, demonstrating the concurrent erasure of difference, of Otherness from within and without – the erasure of the feminine.
Aisenstein started the day with her emphasis on the relevance and validity of the drives today, reinstating the Freudian concept in its richness and setting the stage for the rest of the day. The drives’ unique character, that of border between the body and the psyche, paradoxically belonging to neither and yet belonging to both, challenges conventional monistic thinking and introduces an irresolvable tension at the center of the human problematic. Aisenstein centered her argument around Freud’s famous 1915 definition of the drives as “a drive appears to us as a concept on the frontier between the mental and the somatic, as the psychic representative of the stimuli originating from within the organism and reaching the mind, as a measure of the demand made upon the mind for work in consequence of its connection with the body” (1915, p 122). This push (pulsion) with its constant force challenges the ideal of being protected and sets the preconditions for mental work that leads to what we know as human advances.
In addition to its constant force, drive also has a duality and can only be thought of on the basis of oneness if that oneness contains opposition, an intra-drive opposition. According to Aisenstein and to the Paris school of psychosomatics, this internal opposition and tension is clearly seen in the defusing of the drives with unrepresented, unbound excess that creates pathological conditions for both the body and the psyche under the sweeping effects of the disaffected death drive.
During the first panel, Schaeffer presented her elaboration of the Freudian drives as a constant internal thrust of libido and of the hostile approach of the ego in response. By suppressing, with fecal defenses, this internal intruder of Otherness from within, the ego tries desperately to maintain its equilibrium, but consequently blocks its own nourishment. In her theory Schaeffer also corrects another omission in contemporary psychoanalysis, the overt emphasis on the pregenital aspects of the drives and the undertheorizing of adult post-oedipal sexuality. She locates in this undertheorizing another unwelcomed factor, that of sexual difference. Schaeffer highlights a hatred directed toward the feminine as the feminine comes to represent difference. “The feminine remains completely internal, invisible and wary, the carrier of all the dangerous fantasies…”
Schaeffer builds upon where Freud left us with his last essay on analysis terminable and interminable, of the repudiation of the feminine as the bedrock that brings therapeutic change to a halt by linking the suppression of the internal thrust of libido with its nourishing potentiality and the repudiation of the feminine with its equal potentiality for growth for both partners in adult sexual relationships. For Schaeffer, the feminine/the feminine dimension has nothing to do with gender, but rather it is Otherness that is paradigmatic of all differences. “The other sex, whether one is man or woman, is always the female sex. Because the phallic is the same for everyone.”
Anxiety and depression as case examples illustrated the repudiation of the feminine for women in different times of their lives when the excessive nature of anxieties of intrusion and loss come to foreclose the potentiality for receptivity on both poles, that of the drives and that of the object, stunting further growth and desire. Primary erotogenic masochism in women, on the other hand, acts as a protective factor that enhances the capacity for tolerating frustration and waiting, and makes possible the surrendering and submission of the anal defenses to the partner in sexual intercourse, opening up the ego to the thrusting libido and to the exchange with the sexual object in adult sexual relationships.
In discussing Schaeffer’s presentation Aloupis states: “The body, the mother, parents, and death are not chosen; It is not a question of passivity, it is a question of the capacity for passivation and acceptance of reality driven by a masochism that sufficiently binds pain with pleasure, patience with fulfillment, the drive of life with that of death, destructiveness with creation, hatred with love“. In using Michel Fain’s notion of ‘pleasant passivity’, Aloupis introduces “a potential for investment of passivity that allows investment and repression without the dangerous solutions of denial and splitting.” Aloupis stresses the pitfalls of contemporary western society, which uses the multiplicity of differences as a way to avoid conflict and to homogenize Otherness, consequently, leads to the erasure of the feminine as it stands for pure difference.
Chabert brings our attention next to melancholic features of the repudiation of the feminine with the clinical case of Clara where the female body is used by the subject as a sacrificial object on the altar of the Other. The compulsive acts of eating and purging, accompanied with aborted fantasies of desire, are explored here in the transference to the analyst in two different phases of treatment, one during her adolescence years after being hospitalized due to severe eating disorder and the second many years later during her early 30s. Deprived of masochistic protective benefits (as mentioned above) due to maternal depression, Clara turns to melancholia and presents her solution to dealing with internal unbearable sexual excitation by filling up and emptying out her interiority with the use of compulsive eating and vomiting.
“The body is disobjectalized in the refusal to set itself up as the source of the object of the other’s desire. The body becomes the site of the disavowal of primal fantasies.” She rejects her own desire to defy her mother’s by reversing the hysterical construction of seduction into compulsive binge-eating and bulimic acts. Therefore, according to Chabert, Clara’s acting is not only acting for the sake of self-destruction, but also the sacrifice of the daughter to the mother. Clara, by turning her violence against her own body, not only attacks but also repairs her mother in fantasy. By offering to her mother a purified body, Clara remains in concordance with the maternal narcissistic demand of the ideal feminine slender body that is devoid of any desires. This sacrifice, therefore, is similar to that of the ancient tragic hero of Iphigenia, the example of feminine sacrifice par excellence.
In treatment, Clara is able to open up her defensive structure to the object of the transference and to re-mobilize her hatred towards her mother by attacking the analyst. These attacks are full of affect that attempts to work through her relationship to the drives and primary objects, bringing her to new negotiations and solutions. This, in turn, allows Clara to come back for a second phase of treatment where further working through becomes even more possible.
Scarfone, in his discussion of this clinically rich case presentation, highlights the relationship among masochism, melancholia and sacrifice, and points specifically to the uncovering of a hysterical potentiality. The quasi-melancholic solution that Clara presents, accompanying her compulsive eating patterns, attempts to incorporate the object even though unsuccessfully. This presentation, according to Scarfone, does not fall withing the categories of either melancholic patients or somatic patients who lack representational activity.
Furthermore, Clara stays in a fluid position between melancholia, hysteria, life and death narcissism, masochism and perversion that could call for a diagnosis of a borderline patient for many north American analysts. However, Scarfone calls this a mistake. This is the position that Clara stands for, that of an adolescent who has not yet found durable compromise formations between their drives and their objects. This position of instability and fluidity, moreover, has the potential of change that Clara manifests with her return to treatment. By using this case example, both presenters take the opportunity to point to the dangers of diagnosis and to urge psychoanalysis to distinguish itself more and more from psychiatry.
Pulsion, therefore, as an institute that marks the border, pushes forward the feminine as standing for difference, pointing to the dangers of its repudiation and our tendencies for integration and homogenization. We witness this, for example, in a merging with medical models on one hand or human sciences on the other, attempting to foreclose the gap of difference and therefore the potential for interdisciplinary exchange. As we know historically, the institutional ‘egos’ of contemporary psychoanalytic institutes tend to bring in differences, either within psychoanalysis in the multiplicity of theories or with other disciplines. These institutes name differences, but fail to use them, repeating the way that subject’s ego tends to recognize difference merely in order to incorporate, control and erase the intrusion of its unsettling excitation. Pulsion forwards passivation and toleration of the narcissistic injuries of minor differences, marking a new era of working together ‘at the border’ where psychoanalysts, social and medical scientists, and other disciplines can use psychoanalytic inquiry at its best to advance new thoughts and new concepts and to investigate current changes in our world and their effects on our new subjectivities.
In the afternoon, Salecl’s presentation demonstrated this spirit of cross disciplinary fertilization with a turn to contemporary social problematics of the repudiation of the feminine as related to the jouissance of apathy in today’s neoliberal societies. First, Salecl questioned what changed in our relationship to truth and facts and how our relationships with authorities have altered. Populist leaders worldwide thrive in our time of doubt, she emphasized. In this context, she questioned what psychoanalytic inquiry can add, especially when the drives and the economic point of view of satisfaction and jouissance come into focus, in order to explore further not only the logic of ignorance at work, but also other symptoms emerging within the context of neoliberal societies.
From the point of view of the Lacanian drive and her concept of ‘passionality, she focused on the jouissance of fake news and propaganda today, which exist in abundance to install doubt over scientific discoveries. As examples Salecl discussed fake news about vaccines and the Russian propaganda of being a superior race. More specifically, the political propaganda that Russians possess the best genetic combination, placing them into a superior group, serves to justify a passionality for violence and a wish to trespass the boundaries other countries. These ideologies, Salecl says, goes hand in hand with neoliberalist ideologies such as ‘the most powerful is having it all.’ Twitter being led by one of the most powerful man who, out of a whim, fired employees is another example. Is the public finding its own jouissance in watching this kind of violence and perverse cruelty, Salecl wonders. Psychoanalysis has always pointed to the subject’s responsibility of its own jouissance.
How do we address responsibility for jouissance in today’s time of extreme individualism, Salecl asks?
Neoliberalism pushes forward the idea of positive psychology where you succeed with the armor of positive thinking, such as with the trope “fake it until you make it”. The imposter syndrome of Helene Deutsch is useful here to think about the psychological motives. The imposter comes to fulfill the image of the magnificent ideal ego. The spreading of imposters promoted by social media sets the bar of personal happiness and fulfillment higher and higher. Therefore, in this culture of success, we have a new symptom, that of burnout, and, consequently, an increase of apathy. Contemporary subjects are caught between compulsion to do everything to the maximum and a wish to do nothing; therefore, a withdrawal of social interactions, interpersonal sexual relationships, an increased of use of internet pornography and addictions are on the rise.
Salecl, in recounting countless examples of apathy, burnout and the so-called imposter syndrome brings our attention to drive satisfaction/ jouissance as the underside of passivity encapsulated in these symptoms. What media discourse presents on sexual violence is increasingly erupting into social consciousness, gaining more and more popularity. Salecl points out again and again the jouissance of observers, the jouissance of the media that guides our passion for ignorance and unboundedly goes hand in hand with the erasure of the feminine and of sexual difference.
The round table discussion of Webster, Gherovici and Lichtenstein served as the final remarks on the drive and jouissance and this symposium’s working hypothesis of the contemporary consequences on the potentiality for thinking occasioned by the erasure of the feminine, of difference and of Otherness.
In the contemporary context of socio-political malaise, the guiding concepts of Pulsion help us advance our thinking and, perhaps most importantly, train a new generation of psychoanalysts to treat not only today’s patients, but also patients for the generations to come and to address the larger socio-political concerns. “I think we are all feeling the pressure exerted by what can only be called ‘this moment of history’” Webster states, calling our attention to the responsibility and necessity of a new intervention in psychoanalysis. Pulsion heralds this responsibility.
Commenting on Salecl’s presentation, Webster highlights the organization of the drives and jouissance as manifested in the symptom, the passion for ignorance with its multiple faces, splitting and compulsive belief, disbelief in the form of doubt, apathy and volatility, cynicism or pessimism, indifference and intolerance towards others. In moving from the social to the clinical, Webster also draws our attention to Clara and to her organization of the drives in her compulsive acts. She brings an additional point of view to Chabert’s presentation of Clara as suffering from a defect in hystericization with few remaining libidinal traces that urgently ask for the analyst to mobilize all impulses on the side of life; a defect that, within the therapeutic process, leaves so little available to facilitate the gradual figurability of representations.
Webster argues instead that we witness an excess of obsessionality in hysteric women in our world today. In this, she endeavors to name something broader, such as our relation to technology, to the unending fascination with violence, to the compulsive doubting, to the “tendency towards speech that humiliates, and is melancholically violent in the form of endless meaning, and nevertheless guilt ridden and ultimately self-punishing.” Clara therefore as the adolescent of her times tries with her compulsions to speak to what “civilization might be in the process of enacting, what this hysteria strives towards and needs the therapeutic process to finish its work, an act that would be a real act and not an erasure of signification.”
Webster also brings our attention to the importance of the gaze in Clara’s end of treatment as well as in Salecl’s talk of the imposter syndrome by linking it to Freud’s paper, “A Child is Being Beaten” and Lacan’s discussion of the paper. The exposing itself to the gaze is impossible as the fantasy has to move from this near complete enclosure of “the pure object for the gaze, into its elaboration, and to the transitional space towards the impossible articulation of an I—“I am being beaten by my father”… with a force that admits pleasure, moves towards surrender, finding oneself in the position of being the object, allowing for a new objectality.” In specific, this, of course, requires the analyst’s listening and the work of analysis to put an “I” where there is no “I”. “But then we are left with the following fascinating paradox,” she says. “Psychoanalysis has always been synonymous with hysteria, whose multiplicity of forms is maddening, taking us to the edge of what we know …and yet, we are saying that this is new and that we need new ways of working with it, bringing it into the analytic frame. The oldest and most archaic psychoanalysis then, anew today in the name of Pulsion institute.”
Gherovici brings us back to Schaeffer’s morning thesis on Freud’s paper “analysis terminable and interminable,” to the rock of castration and the repudiation of the feminine for all genders. This rock of castration is the rock of death that always is behind gender issues, Gherovici states. “It starts with the body and the body is what we cannot leave behind.” In her practice, she says, cases of gender transitions are about mortality rather than sexuality as there are always there, life and death questions. Bedrock of castration being synonymous with the bedrock of death, throws an interesting light to understand further the epidemic of apathy of today’s world, Gherovici comments.
She further elaborates; the dichotomy between sex and gender is a false one. Sexual difference is neither gender nor sex; where gender needs to be embodied, sex needs to be symbolized. Transgenderism problematizes the assumption that sex is a natural category. The psychoanalytic position supersedes the binary of sex and gender as is neither sex nor gender and fully expresses the radicality at stake. The attempt to represent sexual difference fails as it encounters an impossibility of representing, as this concerns a failure of representation at the center of language. At the same time, language failure is its possibility. “Sexuality is what we are never done talking about” Gherovici playfully puts forward. Psychoanalysis shows us this fundamental negativity that defies completion. This negativity has potentiality as it resists heteronormative, political and social mandates. This neither sex, nor gender problematic accounts for what is to be human. We humans, tend to ignore the irresolvable tension and negativity at the heart of the human condition, as we tend to ignore the bedrock of death. In presenting a perfume that tries to combine humanity and woman in one word, Gherovici plays with the word ‘womanity’ as it stands for the problematic of the radical negativity of sexual difference.
Lichtenstein opposes the work of thinking to the passion of ignoring. The drive is the demand for work, the demand for thinking, the demand that never ceases. Lichtenstein states that we cannot stop the drives, but by stopping thinking we send an engraved invitation to the passion for ignorance. How do we work with the concept of the drive, he asks. Freud talks about the drive as the representative to the mind, not of a representation. Lichtenstein urges us to work further with the concept of the drive. Using Freud’s essay on the repudiation of the feminine as a starting point, Lichtenstein proposes a new definition of the feminine, “that which is repudiated.” It is defined by the repudiated, in other words, it has no a priori. Lichtenstein takes issue with the morning panels and with psychoanalysis in general when there is an issue of substantiating the feminine as interiority on one hand, and placing it on the negative, on the other; as well as, conflating women and the feminine. Feminine is a radical negation, an absolute difference and it requires the work of thinking to push forward new concepts. It is in this spirit of the work of thinking that Lichtenstein left us in this symposium as a closing remark and welcomed an institute called drive, Pulsion, to do this work.
Vaia Tsolas, PhD, November 2022
Click here for Report on the Symposium: Vaia Tsolas, PhD, Pulsion Symposium 2022 pdf format
Vaia Tsolas, PhD
Many of you have asked why Pulsion. What has been our imperative to go through the pains and the struggles of conceptualizing and creating another psychoanalytic institute in NYC alongside the plethora of well-established and well recognized psychoanalytic institutes?
Of course, many of you who have posed this question already know the most important aspect of the answer.
The name Pulsion reveals its unique mission to re-introduce to the contemporary scenery of psychoanalytic theory and practice the most revolutionary of Freud’s discoveries, the drives. This is why we are beginning today, during Pulsion’s inaugural event with Marilia Aisenstein’s address on the State of the drives. I hope all of you have picked up a copy.
The ones of us who have gone through mainstream psychoanalytic education in US would most likely agree that we have witnessed a silencing and progressive erasure of so much that Freud revealed about the human psyche. The drives have been all but eradicated.
Infantile sexuality has been left behind, losing its meta-psychological preeminence in Freud’s theorizing, restricted and confused with sexual behavior and genitality. Freud’s warning that the scandalous revolutionary discovery of sexuality at the center of the psyche was to be rejected by his contemporaries, reverberates in our days – sexuality, the unwanted ‘xenos’, discredited now as outdated and invalid.
In 1914 Freud wrote: “But the silence which my communications met with, the void which formed itself about me, the hints that were conveyed to me, gradually made me realize that assertions on the part played by sexuality in the aetiology of the neuroses cannot count upon meeting with the same kind of treatment as other communications. I understood that from now onwards I was one of those who have ‘disturbed the sleep of the world’, as Hebbel says, and that I could not reckon upon objectivity and tolerance.” (Freud, 1914a, pg. 22)
From personal experience, I sadly attest that the central symptom of our psychoanalytic institutes today censors candidates from uttering words like ‘the drives’ and ‘infantile sexuality’. They assert that these concepts are of historical value at best and contribute nothing to the understanding of our contemporary analysands.
Obviously building a psychoanalytic institute such as Pulsion in the face of the institutional repression of the drives is an ambitious and difficult challenge.
Today we inaugurate Pulsion as an institute with a cornerstone that celebrates the re-instantiation of the drives in psychoanalytic theory and practice, an institute that, with a freshness of a psychoanalytic rigor, strives to focus on the contemporary subject living in a world of isolation and constant overwhelm seeking desperately the anchor of identity.
Why Pulsion and not Drives? The choice of Pulsion points to Strachey’s misguided translation of Trieb as “instinct” and the unfortunate consequences that led to further confusion and reduction of the drives to a biological concept. Pulsion in French psychoanalytic theorizing has survived as a translation that has served to further the evolution of the concept.
With their re-inauguration through Pulsion, the drives remain situated as a concept at the border. At this border, Pulsion proclaims a refusal to accept false dichotomies – academics and clinicians — psychosomatics and theories that advance language and the social.
In order to approach this difficult but vitally importance mission of the border, we felt that we needed a good representation between candidates who come from academic and clinical backgrounds.
Following Freud’s tradition of de-medicalizing psychoanalysis with equal emphasis on lay analysis, Pulsion introduces a well thought out Licensed in Psychoanalysis program. This is a program that is designed, not jerry-rigged in a patchwork manner from pre-existing courses as other grandfathered-in institutes have done.
Pulsion leaves the tension of differences as irresolvable, the pulse that propels us to develop psychoanalytic concepts further and to approach the evolution of psychoanalytic techniques that might speak more clearly to contemporary patients.
It is for this reason that our board and faculty are comprised of psychosomaticians, Kleinians and Lacanians, all of whom maintain the drives, Pulsion, as a fundamental concept in their theorizing and practicing. Each presenter today, chair, discussant and round table member is a faculty member of Pulsion. In addition we have many members of the faculty here in the audience and online who have brought to this inaugural event their own enthusiasm.
To be clear, for us differences are not just historical facts in the psychoanalytic tradition. They are the Pulse to create something new in order to approach the complexities of our contemporary world.
Among the concepts, Pulsion has tailored to the contemporary world, while retaining psychoanalytic rigor, is Transitional Psychoanalysis. Christine will speak more about this theoretical and technical evolution to approach the new patient of our days who suffers from an incapacity to think for themselves, to free associate and to dream.
I hope in this small introduction I gave you a synopsis of the imperative we felt to create Pulsion.
I also hope that you might now know from this brief introduction why the inaugural symposium is on the topic of sexuality and its discontents in our days: the erasure of the feminine.
It is tragic and the symptom of our days that the topic of the erasure of the feminine as the erasure of sexual difference can be seen by a few as a transphobia. For these few, their understanding of the feminine is very different from ours and they entirely miss the psychoanalytic theory behind the erasure of sexual difference.
The erasure of the drives as a cornerstone concept in psychoanalysis goes hand in hand with the erasure of difference, of Otherness from within and without, of the feminine.
Julia Kristeva in her latest presentation with Marilia Aisenstein just this summer in the Delphi symposium on Xenos proposes:
The hope for our future is the transformative feminine.
And again it is important to highlight that the feminine as Jacqueline Schaeffer will introduce and the round table at the end of the day will build upon further is the other for both sexes.
It is the interiority that the feminine represents, once again the ‘xenos’. Thus, in Schaeffer’s words, “the feminine remains completely internal, invisible and wary, the carrier of all the dangerous fantasies, difference par excellence … femininity is the body, feminine is the flesh.”
In what follows today, our speakers will give voice to psychoanalytic terms and concepts that have fallen by the wayside within psychoanalysis in this country, terms that, taken literally, may grate on the ears of the contemporary listener, yet another ‘xenos’. But these are terms that harken back to Freud’s brilliant incorporation of the mythological, historical, literary and symbolic in the unfolding of infantile sexuality and the unconscious.
Catherine Chabert and Dominique Scarfone will provide us with the consequences of this erasure of difference in terms of contemporary symptoms. The erasure of difference is what contributes to the inability to think, to free associate and to dream, to the passion of ignorance which Renata Salecl will elaborate later on today.
Pulsion therefore stands for a new pulse for psychoanalysis to face the massive contemporary forms of repression on an individual, institutional and social level and towards new forms of articulation of the transformative feminine.
Thank you for your attention.
Vaia Tsolas, PhD, November 2022
Click here for Introductory Remarks, Pulsion Symposium 2022 pdf format
Christine Anzieu Premmereur, PhD, MD
Primitive feelings and defenses, après coup meaning:
How to train adult and child psychoanalysts
Hello everyone, Welcome, Thank you for choosing to attend the symposium, here in person, or far away in the world!
Pulsion means energy. We have the project, as Vaia just told us, to promote psychoanalytic thinking, to understand the mental and physical suffering of our time. How to find and create tools to think and intervene in an appropriate way? This could be ambitious, but it’s in the mind of all analysts meeting with patients.
Pulsion as energy is a seducing concept, but it’s about positive and negative energy. A century ago, in 1920, S Freud published Beyond the Pleasure Principle, making Eros, the libidinal energy, mixed with, sometimes opposed to, but mostly in a healthy binding with Death Instinct: This is about our natural tendency to look for fast calm, feeling nothing intense. The combination of 2 forces is a nonstop play of a delicate balance in our bodies.
In psychoanalytic theory, the economic view underscores the importance of the quantity of emotions and affects. The daily life of a baby can involve experiences of excess and lack from the maternal object, which have psychosomatic consequences. We also see in adult patients many complaints of excess and lack in regulating their internal life; a common lament is a lack of intimacy with their partner yet an inability to tolerate rapprochement, leading to a preference for self-soothing and addiction. The process of opening to the external world, and the libidinal fantasy to make it desirable, have failed. The transitional object is fetishized in a continuing disavowal of depressive anxiety. There is a failure to integrate self-soothing functions while staying in a stage of full dependency towards an object.
We can observe the lack of mutuality in relationship in babies’ dependence upon self-soothing objects and adults’ compulsive use of technology. This invites an increasing need for therapeutic interventions aimed at creating transitional space. Addiction gives neither a long-term satisfaction nor a structure for the psyche. Mastering the object is the only way to avoid feeling the pain. We can apply the concept of the transitional object to contemporary psychosocial trends while looking at some relevant aspects of parent-infant relations. The capability for creating a new space between self and maternal object depends on the quality of attunement in the parent-infant dyad; this in turn has implications for analytic process. Namely, this serves the development of true transitional objects, which can be distinguished from the compulsive use of concrete objects or of repetitive body actions for decreasing anxieties and tensions. Just as caregivers can support transitional capability in the child, analysts can help patients develop creativity and free association. This can be contrasted with babies’ excessive dependence on self-soothing objects and older children and young adults’ compulsive use of technology as means of comfort without a partner, reflecting a lack of mutuality in their internal relationships. In such cases, therapeutic interventions centered on the creation of a transitional space are increasingly important.
The concept of the drives was Freud’s discovery of a constant push that is never exhausted by satisfaction. At the beginning of life, pleasure is associated with its own economic balance, and its objects are the source either of essential creative systems or of addictive repetition. Autoerotic capacities develop in an intermediate space that gives room for all the creativity that makes us feel ourselves. In contrast, compulsive, self-soothing behavior can lead to fetishistic and addictive behaviors.
Modern patients show that the construction of the primitive link between the object when it is absent and its trace in psychic representation, is not a given. They demonstrate that when this process encounters too many limitations, that construction is vulnerable to the vicissitudes of social encounters. Patients display ‘autistic’, ‘melancholic,’ ‘anti-social’ traits, or even de-subjectivation more akin to the splitting of subjectivity than the repression of a part of psychic life.
Analytic technique and investigation has to change to adjust to this vulnerability.
Perhaps one way of being insulated resides also in our use of theory, or our adherence to groups or institutions, that are necessary to analytic life, but which can become so rigid to insulate us from from difference, the difference we meet daily in our patients, from an openness to the other and his or her position, and, perhaps importantly to the other in ourselves . The elasticity and flexibility in our technique and thinking with our patients that Ferenczi argues for so strongly, becomes its opposite: a defensive shell protecting us from the intractable otherness of the other. Winnicott’s account of human nature challenges this in its insistence on the continuing place of illusion as a resource for living in.
Working with difficult narcissistic issues in patients, with psychosomatic decompensation, with a lack of representative capability, many analysts in the 80s have developed ways of thinking and relating to patients that seem to us essential to be taught in this new institute, In France Andre Green, the Paris Psychosomatic School, as Marilia will show us, Jean Laplanche, Didier Anzieu and the Skin Ego, Rene Roussillon were precursors of changes in the analytic listening.
We label this way of listening and intervening, Transitional Psychoanalysis, a quality of benevolent presence, actively thinking but prudent at intervening, like many child analysts already practice .
Winnicott’s notion of transitional space offers the possibility for changes in the analytic work with difficult narcissistic patients and with young children. Winnicott pointed out the conditions required for a subjective appropriation of mental life: the relationship to reality, as to the internal world, needs to be ‘transitionalized’ within an intersubjective space.
For the past 10 years, and even more so during the pandemic, we are seeing patients taken over by repetitive addictive behaviors. We can observe how difficult it is to have them in sessions free associate and play with representations, and how poor is their libidinal capacity to develop pleasurable activities. It is in the transference and with the analytic frame that we can help the patient to recover in between sessions a capability for a hallucinatory representation of the presence of the analyst.
Psychoanalysts would benefit from the ability for making links between the pain in adolescents and adults who suffer from addiction, and their early experiences repeated in the transference, then getting a new meaning in the Après Coup of a productive analytic session.
We hope to be able to transmit this important way of thinking and working in the Pulsion Institute,
Christine Anzieu Premmereur, PhD, MD, November 2022
Click here for Introductory Remarks, Christine Anzieu Premmereur, PhD, MD, Pulsion Symposium 2022 pdf format
Response to Renata Salecl
Jamieson Webster, PhD
I think that the psychoanalytic concepts of discontent, malaise, apathy, ennui, disaffection, alienation, as signs of “erasure” speaks to the current moment, speaks to something felt clinically across the board, squeezing all of our patients, which is only further highlighted and exacerbated by the pandemic. I think we are all feeling the pressure excerpted by what can only be called “this moment of history.” It feels strange to say that this would be the case more than during Freud’s time, a time of the world wars. Could one even say such a thing, imagine that a measurement of that kind was possible? Perhaps what is important is simply that Freud named the unyielding dialectic between neurosis and civilization which made him ask whether, in the end, the death drive might win out, and forced him to remind himself not to over-value any given manifestation of culture. There is no reason one should believe that anything inevitably leads to progress. Sober Freud. Sober and a tad pessimistic. One could say, truly analytic. Or as Renata named it, intelligent realism.
Perhaps this place that Freud sits in 1930 in his great work Civilization and its Discontents is a similar place to the place the analyst finds themselves now. Meaning here we are, asking once again whether the death drive will win-out, watching the multiplying and complicating factors of life impacting the panoply of symptoms and syndromes, sometimes making them unrecognizable to us, sometimes disorienting us in a given treatment, all the while forcing us not to over-value some yesterday, some Valhalla of classical neurosis, or even of psychoanalysis, certainly as part of what was only a semblance of civilized life. If this was the moment that Freud was able to name something important beyond his classification of psychopathologies that pointed to something more universally shared, or the structure of any singular instance of dreams, jokes, and errors, giving us the truth of the unconscious, he did so in order to ask a broader sociological question of the nature of drives and civilization. We should remember that it did not stop at Civilization and its Discontents. Freud pursued this line of inquiry until the very end of his life, including in Moses and Monotheism, written in 1939, where he asks what functions as transmission for a given culture or people, what symbolic forms we are able to pass on, or not, and how.
Wouldn’t this mean in this difficult moment that the same task is before us, namely to renew the question of psychoanalysis and to say what we learn from our work specifically as clinical psychoanalysts about civilization more broadly speaking, and what has been transmitted to us, and what me might transmit of this, in the name of psychoanalysis. This is not the question, however important it is, of a social or political critique of psychoanalysis. This comes the other way around and we have to, in this politically charged and complex moment, have the audacity to make a few claims given what is unique about a truly psychoanalytic form of listening. I have every hope, even if cautious, and hopefully sober, maybe even importantly, pessimistic, that the Pulsion Institute that we are here to inaugurate today will take up this challenge for the future of psychoanalysis.
This is also the importance of the structure of today’s conference, the morning speaking to the drives, the clinic, moving between theory and case, some generalization beyond cases towards a question concerning the erasure of the feminine, Otherness, difference; and then in the afternoon, with Renata’s work, a turn towards the sociological. Renata shows in examples throughout her work on what she calls a “Passion for Ignorance” that this ignorance always has two sides, works via splitting or division, compulsive belief and disbelief in the form of doubt, apathy and volatility, cynicism or pessimism and violent phantasms, indifference and intolerance toward the other. Taken together, we see that we have to ask anew about the organization of the drives and jouissance and as Renata pointed out ask how we can take responsibility therein.
Something caught my ear in Catherine Chabert’s paper “A sacrificial body: Compulsive actions and phantasms of desires” that I want to pull forward. It’s the word “compulsion.” She has very intricate way of reading this into her admittedly difficult case with its work and its surprising ending and I think what she has to say about it is very important for the questions we have today, stating that to even have a “hysterical” fantasy of seduction is an achievement that cannot be taken for granted. And that the compulsive investment in excitation that is increasingly without an object, or does not construct an object, what she calls “dis-objectalizing”, leaves the drives in a state of deadly diffusion, a subjugating triumph in the form of a perverse take-over, where the life of desire is erased. “In such situations” she writes, “one must therefore get hold of the remaining libidinal traces and urgently mobilize, within the therapeutic process, all impulses on the side of life. The aim is to contribute to a minimal narcissistic reconstruction as well as to the propping of the kind of phantasmatic activity likely to elicit the gradual implementation of displacement, condensation, and symbolization that may ensure the figurability of representations.” What is fascinating is that in naming this the failure of hysteria, or a defect on the way to hystericization—I might wonder if it’s a problem of obsessional women that Patricia Gherovici and I worked on— she both shows us a “new” psychoanalysis that is still absolutely psychoanalytic in its work and its aim.
More than this, the word compulsion seems to name something broader than Clara, something that Clara taches us about, speaking to what civilization might be in the process of enacting, what this hysteria strives towards and needs the therapeutic process to finish its work, an act that would be a real act and not an erasure of signification. Doesn’t compulsion name something about today, our relation to technology, to an unending fascination with violence, compulsive doubting (fake news), and a tendency towards speech that humiliates, is melancholically violent in the form of endless meaning, and nevertheless guilt ridden and ultimately self-punishing? Is this not close to an excess of obsessionality in an otherwise hysteric woman? I have teenage patients who are interested—having watched their parents lost to compulsivity and burnout—in tackling the problem at all costs, finding what counts as a limit, a difference for them, and finding a way to sideline their relationship to new technologies, to any compulsive behavior really. Are we not, as perhaps only they see, immersed in a discourse that is compulsive, doing and undoing, repeating indefinitely, creating a revolving scene of perverse and perhaps admired others and supposedly innocent children. That conflict and its elaboration are difficult and in a process of being cast into a drift of anxiety and compulsive acts, and the tense exchange between desire and sexual excitement is thrown under by this configuration where there can be no loss. Wouldn’t a minimum of “topical circulation,” something Lacan calls the work of the signifier, be a welcome breath, a moment of humanity, not just in work with Clara, but for all of us? I know its pseudonym but Clara means bright future. Clara’s first dream in her analysis of a woman red, white and blue (is it the French flag?) at her piano (is the no important, the instrument) in the dark night on the sea (mere, mother) reminded me that Freud once called hysteria the music of the future.
Some last remarks. I was thinking about Chaubert’s reading of the end of treatment pointing to the importance of the gaze, something that also came up in Renata’s talk about imposter syndrome. I recently did some work on Freud’s paper, “A Child is Being Beaten” and Lacan’s various remarks on it. He says of the title: “No commentary, no metalanguage will account for what is introduced into the world in such a formula! Nothing can either reduplicate it or explain it! The structure of the sentence […] is not there to be commented on, simply: it shows itself” This showing itself, is showing itself as impossible. Impossible to comment, impossible to theorize from the outside. The fantasy has to move from this near complete enclosure, pure object for the gaze, into its elaboration, transitional space as Christeene said, towards the impossible articulation of an I—“I am being beaten by my father”—that is, as Freud enigmatically said, never remembered, maybe doesn’t even exist as such. This articulation and reconstruction, not theorizing or commenting, is the force that admits pleasure, moves towards surrender, finding oneself in the position of being the object, allowing for a new objectality.
In the masturbation fantasy, the subject Lacan says is “burst apart, multiplying into umpteen specimens” and signifiers are reduced to an almost pure state, meaning they lose their value as signifiers. In fact, Lacan says he would go so far as to say that the subject is merely,
…an eye, that is to say, the very thing that always characterizes any kind of object at the limit, at the point of final reduction. To behold it, there has to be at least, not always a subject, but an eye, a screen upon which the subject is established (ibid., p. 110).
What is allowed to emerge from an entire complex—of speech, history, memory, fantasy, and articulated structure—is “nothing more than something that is entirely de-subjectivised.” Lacan concludes his discussion of the beating phantasies: “ultimately [the masturbation fantasy] is enigmatic because it conserves the full charge—but this is a charge that is neither revealed, nor constituted, nor taken on board by the subject—of what, at the level of the Other, is the articulated structure in which the subject is engaged.” (ibid., p. 111) If we are almost entirely desubjectivised in a given phantasm, a mass of identifications and a fictional I at once, a full charge of libido liable to discharge, leaving what is articulated to the Other, then what is absolutely necessary is that someone begin to hear what is at stake? That someone make “it” speak. Of course this is the psychoanalyst. The psychoanalyst is put into this impossible role of saying ‘I’ where ‘I’ cannot be said, must be said. But then we are left with the following fascinating paradox: psychoanalysis has always been synonymous with hysteria whose multiplicity of forms is maddening, taking us to the edge of what we think we know, and psychoanalysis is also synonymous with the problem of the phantasm or masturbation fantasy and what in it refuses articulation, and yet, we are saying that this is new and that we need new ways of working with it, bringing it into the analytic frame. The oldest and most archaic psychoanalysis then, anew today.
Thank you very much.
Jamieson Webster, PhD, November 2022
Click here for Response to Renata Salecl, Pulsion Symposium 2022 pdf format
Vaia Tsolas, PhD
How many times today have you heard us repeat the question “Why Pulsion?” After the wonderful presentations and conversations that we have heard from our faculty and after the enthusiastic reception that we have received from around the world, I think we have asked that question for the last time. We might equally ask Why New York Psychoanalytic, Why Tavistock. Why SPP, Why IPA ? The only meaningful question is Why Psychoanalysis? We have witnessed here today that Pulsion’s deepest mission is to bear the torch that Freud lit a century and a quarter ago. We are not Freudians, Lacanians, Kleinians, Bionians, clinicians or academics. Psychoanalysis is far from obsolete. Freud toiled to leave us with a treasure and Pulsion is here to do what it can to bring a renewed life blood, to remind us of the pulse that surges through the soma and psyche of humanity.
Vaia Tsolas, PhD, November 2022
Click here for Closing Statement: Vaia Tsolas, PhD, Pulsion Symposium 2022 pdf format
Christine Anzieu Premmereur, PhD, MD
Thank you all of you for attending and discussing the very important papers that were presented today. Merci beaucoup to the presenters and discussants, what a great scientific day you gave us, with a lot to think and to work.
Pulsion is associated with energy and wishes to elaborate on psychoanalytic understanding of obscure and difficult, unbearable and painful, or denied part of our selves and in our patients as in the society.
Child analysts know how important it is to know at what point in development the ability to think appears, but more important to understand that it appears when the subject stops functioning like a computer, “an organizer”. In our world, where the remarkable technical skills of computers occupy more and more ground, including in the management of education and somatic and psychic health, it is urgent to learn to differentiate this mode of organizing data from the specific mode of functioning of human thought, based on the ability to symbolize. This capacity has been very well described by many important analysts, in different ways, as being a relation with three terms: the Ego, the symbol and the symbolized thing. We know that we differentiate it from what is the “symbolic equation”, characteristic of psychotic thought, a two-term relationship in which the symbol disappears, leaving only the “I” and the thing – which, as a result, loses all potentiality to symbolize itself. Analogies, metaphors, hypotheses and daydreams disappear from psychic functioning, bringing with them humor, and therefore the capacity to laugh at the world and at oneself.
Learning on how to face modern patients’ disconnection, dissociation, , denials, refusal to learn or to have a critical thinking, is one of Pulsion’s goal, to reestablish a space for daydreaming, associating, playing with representations, fantasies and symbols. We label this approach Transitional Psychoanalysis. I hope you got a flavor of it today.
We are aware of the challenges we are facing in creating this new institute, trying to avoid our own reactions to passivity and phallic defenses. We hope you will stay in touch with us and help us to maintain our project alive and successful.
Christine Anzieu Premmereur, November 2022
Click here for Closing Statement: Christine Anzieu Premmereur, Pulsion Symposium 2022 pdf format
Sexuality and its Discontents: The Erasure of the Feminine in Our Days
November 5, 2022 in NYC
Pulsion emerged in the pandemic as an attempt to bring back what was central to Freud’s thinking, the body, the drives and sexuality, in order to meet our current societal demands. Beyond the urgencies of our days, one impetus for the creation of Pulsion rests on our deep concern about the relative abandonment, in American psychoanalysis at the very least, of Freudian drives and their socio-anthropological roots and effects.
In keeping with this spirit, our inaugural symposium will take place on November 5, 2022, in New York, as a hybrid event featuring an international platform of psychoanalytic theorists and clinicians. We see this as a timely and necessary intervention in psychoanalysis as a discipline undergoing a shift in the ways in which it thinks the psychic and social together, as bodily, sexual, drive-oriented phenomena.
For this Symposium, we have chosen to explore “Sexuality and its Discontents: The Erasure of the Feminine in Our Days.” Events of recent days may have brought into sharper focus certain startling manifestations of this erasure, but our presenters will contextualize it as a fundamental element in the larger landscape of a decrease of Eros and an increase of disaffection in a contemporary world of hyperconnectivity, isolation and the perverse societal demand to enjoy in the bliss of ignorance.
In the contemporary context of socio-political malaise, viral threat, global war conflict and epistemological confusion, we intend that the guiding concepts of Pulsion will help us to advance our thinking and, perhaps most importantly, to train a new generation of psychoanalysts to treat not only today’s patients, but also patients for the generations to come and to address the larger socio-political concerns.
Pulsion investigates the relationship between social structure/phenomena and the structures/phenomena of the psyche. In American psychoanalysis we see the psychic and social having been split into the academic and the psychoanalytic. We mean to bring into being an institute constructed to think across these realms. For this reason, we intend to think alongside psychoanalytically oriented academics as we develop the thought of Pulsion with respect to new or emerging clinical realities.
Pulsion’s academic and training missions incubate the fervent hope to foster a new and renewed appetite within the younger generations for Freud with his revolutionary discoveries of sexuality and the unconscious. We bring together Freudians, post-Freudians and Lacanians as faculty and aspire to attract young candidates, practicing clinicians of course, but also academics from a wealth of related disciplines.
9:00am – 9:20am
Vaia Tsolas and Christine Anzieu-Premmereur
Inaugural Address on the State of the Drives
9:20am – 9:40am
First Morning Panel
9:40am – 11:15am
Presenter – Jacqueline Schaeffer
“On the New Faces of the Feminine: Anxiety and Depression in Women”
Discussant – Panos Aloupis
Chair – Rosemary Balsam
Second Morning Panel
11:30am – 1:00pm
Presenter – Catherine Chabert
“A sacrificial body: Compulsive actions and phantasms of desires”
Discussant – Dominique Scarfone
Chair – Ted Kenny
1:00pm – 2:00pm
2:00pm – 3:00pm
Renata Salecl – “The Passion for Ignorance”
3:15pm – 4:15pm
Moderator – George Sagi
4:15pm – 4:30pm
Vaia Tsolas and Christine Anzieu-Premmereu