The concept of tolerance can be an extremely subtle way of annihilating the ego of the other. I will tolerate you is a way of avoiding the absolute difference between the one and the other. Saying that we are a tolerant society is a way of saying “you have to live by one standard”; a standard that doesn’t accept the impasse and contradiction (complexity) of absolute difference.

To say ‘I love you’ is not the same as saying ‘I tolerate you.’

‘I love you’ is to say that I love you for because of our absolute difference, the very gap (the One) that separates the Two in an embrace.

Punishment – Love – Sadism – Masochism

Freud realised through his clinical work, that people were speaking about fantasies in which they linked punishment to love. Going back to childhood the analysand would fantasise about a scenario where a sibling might be punished and take that as a sign that the parent must love them more than their sibling. And Freud saw, in his analysands, different configurations in the fantasy of the punishment and love coupling; (s)he is being punished, I am being punished or an unrelated child is being punished. All these positions being linked to the love of the caregiver and possibly in three progressive stages.

The idea being that we continue into adulthood to be effected by this early relationship-configuration between punishment and love. And so we can see how this love-punishment coupling could lead to sadistic or masochistic feelings in adulthood. The masochistic feeling being a sadistic affect turned against one’s own ego.

Seen in a political light, the liberal/ left can tend towards a masochistic expression of ideas (sadism turned against themselves) whereas the libertarian/ right can tend towards a more ‘straightforward’ sadistic expression of this punishment-love coupling.

Put in a vulgar and cartoonish style, liberal language tends to turn the punishment and sadistic pleasure in on itself “we are killing our planet”, “we must kill our racism”, “we are the victim of a conspiracy”, whereas the right might say, “they are controlling us”, “they are taking our jobs”, “keep foreigners out” the punishment and sadistic enjoyment is aimed to an external object.

The libertarians from the time of Sade were very clear about their victims attitude, that they should not show or feel any enjoyment from the acts of punishment. The sadist looks for faceless victims, whereas the masochist finds the victim within themselves.

The ‘50 Shades of Grey’ idea of a reciprocal enjoyment; that the sadist and masochist find equal and mutual pleasure in the act, is a false concept. There is, in reality, no relationship between the sadist and the masochist because there is no common object of punishment.


I had a dream. It was in a room that was a conflation of a rehearsal room and Zizek’s classroom. There was a cellist who had a small blackboard next to his chair.  And on this small blackboard the cellist had chalked up a number of divisions. He said that the divisions had to be shifted, and he said that with a wry smile. I was concerned about the smudging and rubbing out the chalk divisions and how it would look when the divisions were rewritten. Would it look clean enough. 

I took this dream to my analyst and I made a free association around various themes. The blackboard reminded me of my boarding school in Dorset and a few of the teachers that taught me. Mr McDonald who taught me French and wrote endless lists of verbs on the blackboard. Mr Skinner who taught me English and who took a shine to me when I said what no other boy had the nerve to speak out; that the poem we were reading together was about Spring which was really a metaphor for sex and ejaculation – he seemed to enjoy the fact that I blushed, my face became engorged with blood, when I felt compelled to say what was the Elephant in the room and that which no other boy was going to say. 

And voicing the Elephant in the room was another theme of the dream, because the cellist had that wry smile because he too, like my uncle, couldn’t stop himself from speaking about the Elephant in the room. 

The divisions on the blackboard and the fact that they needed to change were to do with my relationship to truth, the idea that truth is constantly shifting. And that because it was shifting, there would always be a smudge on the blackboard. And because the divisions had to be rewritten on the blackboard, they would never be as clear as the original ones. That truth must consequently always be written over a smudge. That there is always a sense of disappointment with truth. It would never be clear enough. And the signs written over a background of black, the void, the register of the real. 

I went back to the Elephant in the room. 

Is it an act of madness to announce the Elephant that is in the room, or is more mad to pretend with everyone else that it isn’t there … 

My analyst cut the session. 

For Freud, dreams are always narcissistic. In other words the characters are always saying something about our own psychic structure. And there is the manifest content, all the information that I can remember about the dream, and the latent content which is all the content that arises from free associating around that dream. 

The cellist’s smile had been a nodal point in the chain of signifiers, because it linked up to my uncles smile and the teacher’s smile and the idea of speaking about those things which are kept unspoken. It was a dream about the paranoia felt from over-sharing. Giving voice to those things which are, perhaps, best kept unspoken. But is it mad not to respect those unspoken ghosts that occupy our communal space. 


I think that I am inventing and developing my own political position, and with it a title that I have just invented (and will probably change)- A Psychoanalytic Anarchist. That could easily fall into Psycho-Anarchist!

In other words, I’ve become aware of how I respond to information that comes into my consciousness and become aware of my instinctive responses. As a result of becoming aware of these responses, I’ve started to analyse whether the response is triggered by a tribal attachment or whether it is of on an intellectual grounding.

Because most of my responses are of little or no intellectual engagement. In fact there is a huge part of me that doesn’t want to engage intellectually AT ALL with the stimulus. I just want the pleasure of knowing whether I am right/they are wrong or whether I am better/they are worse than me.

For instance there are certain key words that I respond to like; anti-immigration, sovereignty and national pride etc that trigger an instantaneous and visceral response.

Although anarchism sounds very nihilistic, it could also be very positive. The word actually originates from the Greek word anarkhos which literally means without leader, and although I don’t believe that a society can function without a leader, I think that the notion and function of leader must always be challenged.

And by leader I mean in all areas. Political, intellectual, artistic, cultural, psychoanalytical and philosophical.

Our need to be part of a tribe and led by a particular kind of leader is not just something that we’ve picked up along the way. It is a part of our psychic structure that has it’s origins before even our acquisition of language – going back in the mythology of our ancestors, and I believe that in order to develop and progress we need to understand what they are and not just react.


King Lear for TV

We live in a society obsessed by the “black and white” – that you either love someone or you hate them, you’re either right or wrong, in or out, left or right … King Lear is about the murky ambiguous area of love and the demand and need for love – and it is Lear’s incestuous need for love that leads him into paranoia and madness.

The decline of the name-of-the-father signifier and the King’s fall into madness as a dramatisation of our current political climate could seem like a somewhat obvious and banal reason for adapting King Lear for TV, if that is what it is. Nevertheless society fetishises both the signifier of the father, and the concept of removing the primal father – and it’s both of these unconscious psychic phenomena that Shakespeare transforms into an ambiguous language which both destabilises and enslaves the characters of the play.

King Lear’s relationship with his three daughters creates a familiar topology between three psychic spaces (Imaginary, Symbolic and Real) – and the three women could also be seen as representing the three mythological women of a man’s life. The woman that gives birth to him, the lover and the woman that carries him to his death.

The play begins with Lear retiring as King and dividing his land between his three daughters and Lear demands that the women tell him how much they love him. Both Goneril and Regan lie to him, Goneril in fulsome terms. However the youngest Cordelia speaks honestly and bluntly, saying that she loves him “according to her bond, no more and no less”.

Freud, in his 1919 paper “The Three Caskets”, refers to Cordelia as the dumb or silent one, “The Goddess of Death”. She says it ‘how it is’ and Lear feels compelled to reject her, what in psychoanalysis you would call a disavowal. Infuriated, by Cordelia’s refusal to flatter him, Lear disowns her and divides her share between the elder sisters. Cordelia ends up marrying the King of France who is shocked by Lear’s decision to disown her and then later in the play France invades England.

[That which has been expelled or disavowed, returns in the Real]

The drama concludes with Lear carrying the corpse of Cordelia [The Goddess of Death] on stage before dying himself from his own [words] wounds.

Jokes and the unconscious

It is often said that humour has an important function in society, that satire plays a significant role in politics, that humour helps in transmitting thoughts that in other ways would be difficult or impossible to say. That there is always an element of truth in a joke. Even that comedy plays a moral role in society …

Ken Dodd would say that jokes are simply about pleasure. But what was interesting to Freud was the idea that there is something in the structure of jokes that reflect the structure of language and the unconscious.

Duck goes into the chemist’s shop.
‘A tube of lipsol please.’
‘Certainly, that will be fifty pence.’
‘Put it on my bill, please.’ – (Les Dawson)

A semiotician would say that the pleasure comes from the play of signifiers themselves, the process by which they attach and become detached from the signified, that there is a pleasure we enjoy from language itself.

Displacement; replacing one meaning of a word with another meaning of the same word is one of the main functions of jokes, because words, according to psychoanalysis, are overdetermined, i.e. that one word can mean many different things, and both jokes and the unconscious allow signifiers to slide.

But there are also condensations of signifiers to form metaphors, and displacements and condensations of ideas such as habitat, economy, language, social etiquette all play a part in jokes, which reveal structures of language itself.

Jokes can also erupt from a repressed part of the unconscious and Freud devotes a sizeable section of his book ‘Jokes and their relation to the unconscious’ to smutty jokes and sexual innuendo to show how repression functions as a release within language, speech and the unconscious.

Jewish jokes also feature in Freud’s book and one that he and Lacan refer back to a number of times is this one:

A couple of men are talking to each other and one of them says “I am going to Cracow”. And the other replies – “Why are you telling me you are going to Cracow? You are telling me that to make me believe that you are going somewhere else”.

This joke plays on a certain structure of our speech, where we never directly send the message, but conceal it within a decoy. A bit like when someone says to you, I’m going to be completely honest with you … you can be sure that they will be concealing the main point!

“What the subject tells me is always fundamentally related to a possible feint, in which he sends me, and I receive, the message in an inverted form.” Lacan Seminar III

Until our last breath

This morning I was reading in the Guardian an interview with the writer, journalist and political activist Barbara Ehrenreich on her latest book Natural Causes, which appears to be a critique (with ‘a very keen bullshit detector’) of the ‘scrambling for new things that might prolong’ our lives.

There was something refreshing about her dismissal of the ‘wellness’ industry (what she calls a ‘middle-class signifier). Ehrenreich’s [politics of the body] came with her insight that our cells didn’t respond as if in a communist dictatorship but that there are rebels, that cancer was a cellular rebellion. That in nature, even the cell has agency. It seems that at the age of 76, the idea that a cell has it’s own mind made the idea of death fine for her.

The problem with the idea of a dying from natural causes is that it relies on the idea of nature as a concept outside of the human experience, and when you start to think about it, nature is a human construct. Ehrenreich’s concept of the body as a political organisation in itself shows how culture and politics colonise our body and the unconscious. The dilemma that faces us, is that there are policies that we can adopt to direct our cells, get off a stop early and walk a little bit further, eat less sugar etc, but then there will always be that unknown pocket of rebellion.

We don’t talk about death very much, perhaps because in essence it is impossible to talk about. Why did Freud talk about the death drive? It is in fact the other side of the life drive and my experience about being around people who are dying is that they are as full of drive and desire as others who are, not knowingly at least, so close to death. In a way the death drive is the need/demand we feel for controlling death. And this was the thought that I was left with from reading the interview with Ehrenreich. Perhaps the fear is not the moment of death itself, but the fear that we will always be be captured between drive and desire until our last breath.

The Semiotics of the Crucifixion

One of the frustrations faced by an atheist – is that in the act of negating the existence of God, one somehow acknowledges in a certain kind of way the existence of God. Somehow atheism seems to end up as a Christian argument which is why a book like the God Delusion can end up reading like a biblical treaties.

The crucifixion of Christ is seen by some as the idea that God killed off a part of himself, his son, in order to free his followers from the idea of an all powerful creator in the sky – the staging of his own death on the cross so that the Holy Spirit is left as a kind of remainder to act as a social bond amongst his believers. An intervention or cut into the Real, leaving the existence of God in the form of language in the registers of the Real, Symbolic and Imaginary.

This symbolic/real staging can easily be overlooked by atheists/pragmatists who often fail to recognise their own attachment to the discourse of science where science, like any discourse, relies on the assumption that both it and nature are constructs of language and semiotics, an assumption that is rarely put in question by the pragmatist.


Lying and Truth

The difference between the language of humans and animals, is that humans have the capacity to lie. In fact our whole communication is based on lies. We give a good face, edit our images, speak our beliefs knowing that they can only, by the very nature of truth function, be partially true, and knowing that the Other is also lying to us. The machines and apps and algorithms will never be really effective until they find the capacity of language based on the function of lying. But lying is very complex, involving truth.


Will Self came to talk in our psychoanalytic seminar last Saturday. The subject was Trump and the media. Self started by reading from a piece that he wrote in 2014 about ‘Fatbergs’ – those huge balls weighing tons that role around in the sewers under our feet, consisting of fat, shit and wet wipes. Alongside Fatbergs, Self elaborated on the theme of his self-named ‘Bidirectional Digital Media’, the idea that the internet allows a two way flow of self expression. The pipeline between the two ideas flowed freely throughout the talk.

For Self the Fatbergs are the big balls like Trump, Farage, Rees-Mogg and Corbyn but also “YOU!”, as he pointed to a room full of psychoanalysts. “What’s wrong with you, you weirdos, don’t you laugh!” … “I mean you’re all Freudians, you know all about the anal stage, wiping your bottom with wet wipes…. hahaha!”

Apparently Self’s mother was in psychoanalysis whilst she was pregnant with him and went ahead with the pregnancy because of her analysis – so he joked that maybe he owes his life to psychoanalysis … but that is where his belief in the psychoanalytic theory ends. He spent a short period in analysis with a ‘very famous analyst’ but complained that if he was to talk about his sex life, he wanted to know the sex life of his analyst … that he didn’t just want the shiny mirror held up to him. It was pointed out that the idea of the reflective mirror went out about 70 years ago, and someone else said that it sounds like he wanted an analyst a little like Trump himself. Another person pointed out that he knew a certain amount about psychoanalysis but he clearly didn’t understand some important points, but it seemed like he wasn’t interested in a bidirectional discourse.

His Bidirectional Digital Media had fired off in the middle of his reading his own piece from 2014 directly off the mobile device – “Oh … sorry … that’s my daughter …”

Self looked super suave as he swung his scarf around his neck and placed his hat on his head and left the room saying “goodbye … and I love you very much!” [despite your weirdness?]