Leader as subject-supposed-to-know

In psychoanalysis, the analyst takes the position of a ‘subject-supposed-to-know’. He or she occupies a place that is the analytic situation and it is a position of power but a very particular kind of power, because the patient or analysand relates to the analyst as a ‘subject-supposed-to-know’ and that is very different to a subject-who-knows. The power of the analytic work is that the analyst knows a lot but at the same time they take a position of not knowing and the position is likened to the game of bridge where one of the four players is a dummy. The dummy lays out the cards and provokes the direction of play.

The analyst has a hunch about what could be the direction of the analysis and will make provocations in the direction but it’s really important that the the analysand relates to the analyst as a ‘subject-supposed-to-know’ and not a ‘subject-who-knows’.

Although it would be ridiculous to make direct comparisons between politics and psychoanalysis is there not a problem when we start to relate to a politician as a subject-who-knows… after all, politicians are human bearings and no human being can fully predict or know the future –

But some politicians who know a lot and have a certain feeling, have a hunch, can make a speculation or present a hypothesis – someone who can be related to as a “subject-supposed-to-know’.


The UK untying the ‘strong and stable’

My psychoanalytic rambling has traversed all borders this week in the wake of the election frenzy, and to unload some of the frenzy that has been colonising my thoughts …
… is it not interesting that May called this election to create a solid mandate for her Brexit negotiation and instead of staying strong and stable on that course, has been forced to divert down other tributaries of key concerns? Not at all the course that May’s obsessional symptom demanded.
On Monday Paxman entered the stage as a violent interventionist – enunciated by a society that // in part //thrives on division, where certain citizens are no longer willing to fall into a singular ideology – one where the myth of THE voice of the people – THE will of the people – looking towards THE leader at the mercy of an ideology that is locked into the ‘discourse of the master’ has begun, in part, to divide multifariously.
On Wednesday May presented herself as a lack; an empty signifier (who showed “wisdom” according to the foreign secretary) – possibly THE “wisdom” was the prescience to realise that she wouldn’t be able to create the illusion, in this debate at least and it would seem in a whole raft of other BBC interviews, of a singular leading voice and that the Cons could only hope that the illusion would proliferate by itself in that lack; and let’s not underestimate the power of an empty signifier – the pure signifier of the monarchy being the ultimate in empty signifiers next to God.
Perhaps one lesson of the government’s response to the referendum result is that if you bear down on certain factions of a society in the hope of imposing a unified voice you simply spawn a multitude of other voices and some of those voices were extremely compellingly in the TV debate. It may have been a “cacophony” (again to use the foreign secretary’s terminology) but the issues by necessity revealed their own complexity, complexities rooted deep in our history.
May has pitched the whole Conservative campaign squarely in the middle of the what Lacan would name in the 1970’s the “social discourse of the master”. However, this discourse which illustrates the dialectic of the master and the slave, masks the truth located in the gap of the divided subject.
Perhaps what is emerging now in the final week is the discourse of the hysteric (not related to the gender contextualised insult that Farage used). The hysteric discourse being one that doesn’t just appeal to the concept of a dominating leader but questions the Other, questions who they are for the Other, and is a discourse less certain about the accepted, monolithic “knowledge” of the establishment.
There is a long way to go to dislodge the discourse of the master in large areas where there is still a fetish for mastery in the discourse of the master, but politics is all but predictable in the prevailing register of contemporary political ideology.

50 Shades of Grey avec Sade

Nestling in a box of junk I passed on Montpellier Road Brighton yesterday was that popular classic, 50 Shades of Grey, and having seen the cover so often veiling a face on the tube I had to pick it out of the box and have a flick through and it fell open at page …

The Submissive will Obey any instructions given by the Dominant immediately without hesitation or reservation and in an expeditious manner. The Submissive will agree to any sexual activity deemed fit and pleasurable by the Dominant excepting those activities that are outlined in the hard limits (Appendix 2). She will do so eagerly and without hesitation.”

No acts involving fire play.
No acts involving urination or defecation and the products thereof.
No acts involving needles, knives, piercing or blood.
No acts involving gynaecological medical instruments.
No acts involving children or animals.
No acts that will leave an permanent marks on the skin.
No acts involving breath control.
No activity that involves the direct contact of electric current (whether alternating or direct), fire or flames to the body.”

Of course we all know from Freud that when we say NO we are already thinking YES. The Marquis de Sade realised that there was some mileage from exploring fantasy and we know how far he took his fantasy. But the genius of Lacan was to realise that there is a relation between the work of the Marquis de Sade and the ethical imperatives of Emmanuel Kant in his virtually impenetrable essay Kant avec Sade.

Sade’s Philosophy in the Boudoir comes 8 years after Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and remember Sade lived though the French Revolution and escaped the guillotine only by the fortune of a clerical error.

But how could Lacan connect the ethical work of Kant to the extreme fantasies of Sade … and I won’t go into the ‘Boudoir of Sade’s phantasy’ but suffice to say the “HARD LIMITS” of E L James’ book doesn’t even form an entry point into Sade’s list of sexual acts therein contained.

The connection between Kant’s moral imperatives and Sade’s fantasies is that they are exploring limits, or rather question the function of a limit. For Sade in the limitations of his prison cell, surrounded by fine tapestries, he had no other freedom left to him but the freedom of his fantasy which he explored to the end.

Sade comes across as cold in his description but also brilliantly funny. He was a fine writer and what you come to realise in reading Sade is that although he spent most of his life imprisoned, some of that time in the Bastille, he discovers ‘jouissance’ in the act of writing; it is as if he has discovered that he needs nothing else but his writing; an activity that Freud would come to distinguish as ‘sublation’ – with the erotic pleasure not resulting from the content of the fantasy but the eroticisation of the words themselves.

But what I find truly obscene about this book by E L James (I’m not even going to talk about the quality of writing) is that it attempts to domesticate perversion and thereby renders fantasy moral. The unconscious is the place where the socially unacceptable gets repressed and symbolised and coded and then erupts as symptoms, jokes, and obscenities. Sade, by taking his phantasy to the end, without limit, was performing an ethical act, and he is giving the reader the permission to follow their own phantasy, exhausted to the end.

It is maybe an ignorant cliche to say that the work of Sade, in his inauguration of the subversion of the subject, opened the path to psychoanalysis but nevertheless with the huge interest in the work of E L James, what does that say about contemporary repression/perversion?



Interesting to see the film Jackie yesterday. Jackie being what one might call an ‘empty signifier’ not because she was an ‘empty person’ but because she represented something for millions of people or rather Jackie became a pure signifier that had nothing to do with a the person. The signifier Jackie became welded to a piece of ideology specific to that time.

But what happens when you take away the millions of American citizens for whom the signifier supported so much meaning? What was this signifier when it was behind the closed doors? 

The film has as it’s thread the interview between Jackie and a hardened newspaper hack and there is immediately an acknowledgement between the two that this piece ‘he was writing’ was going to be all about the signifier Jackie and no more. Every now and then the ‘real’ person bubbles up but is it the real person? Even with the explicit enactment of her experience of the assassination – her attempt to hold JFK’s brains into his open skull with staring blue eyes, somehow doesn’t connect us with a person. Even the score is emptied of signification, resisting any temptation to sentimentalise, which brings into stark light their favourite piece of music – a banal extract from the musical Camelot – a portrayal of the King Arthur myth popular at the time.

At the end of the interview Jackie takes the illegible yellow papered notes that the hack has been taking and goes through it with an eraser to leave the pure signifier



In last week’s PMQ Jeremy referred to Tam Dalyall’s autobiography “The importance of being awkward”. Some people might want to title their own autobiography “The importance of being hysteric”.

In some ways it seems that the political stage has become bifurcated and disdainfully renamed from opposing sides the “Populists” and the “Liberalists” and the ideology in the US is so divided that there are even dating websites starting up for Populist’s like trumpsingles.com to help an ideologically divided people find love amongst like minded lonely souls.

In light of the new wave of UK populist-fisted rhetoric – “The Liberal hysterics need to stop whinging”, “the career politicians are just hypocrites”, “the courts are the enemies of the people and that Trump is not a liar it’s just his way of doing business”, and so on and so on …

… I have been mind rambling in an undoubtably excessive line of thought of what it might mean to be labelled a Liberal Hysteric because within the suffocation of a bullying populist world where Liberal has become a dirty word and hysteria is still used to insult, Liberal hysteria would not appear at first to have strong legs to march with …

It would seem that in the new order Liberal signifies anything that doesn’t marry up to the dogma of the Populist movement and “hysteric” is still used abusively, however in psychoanalysis the structure of the hysteric (both male and female) is the MOST interesting and creates the greatest movement in the form of questioning and pushing through the deadlocks of repressed trauma.

By contrast the obsessive tends to loop and paper-over material as a way of avoiding confrontation of past trauma. In analysis the obsessive looper is encouraged to move to a more hysteric position, to become “hystericised”, in an attempt to break the looping and become more questioning of underlying structures.

So maybe the newly labelled and categorised “Liberal Hysteric” is not such a bad thing for many people and something to be marched for …

I guess the problem is whether the position of the “Liberal Hysteric” really is in the position within the hysteric social discourse? There is always the danger that one could just be maintaining a Liberalistic obsessive looping position endlessly avoiding the past trauma and papering over the true problems, procrastinating, maintaining a position of deadly mortification typical of the obsessional neurotic structure?

Nevertheless, now the signifier “Liberal Hysteric” has been allocated a position in the symbolic order, the Liberal Hysteric has been enunciated and has the potential to assume its new position within the fertile ground of the “social discourse of the hysteric” and examples of this position might have already emerged in the form of the marches the day after the US inauguration all over the country where “millions of people took to the streets of their own free will, packed tight, lots of pink hats, lots of signage, earnest, vulgar, witty, a few brilliant (“Take your broken heart and make it art”)” and all peaceful but purposeful and determined >>>> perhaps the first neonate screams of the Liberal Hysteric.

“A certificate tells me that I was born. I repudiate this certificate: I am not a poet, but a poem. A poem that is being written, even if it looks like a subject.”

–Jacques Lacan (1981)



The 1985 Franco-British documentary Shoah is in my experience the closest a film can possibly come to a representation of what Jews, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roma went through at the hands of the Nazis. One memory from watching the whole 9 hours of interviews with survivors, camp officers, locals living around the concentration camps was the testimonial giving by a barber from the local town who found himself cutting the hair of his friends and colleagues from his own town as the passed into the shower rooms. They were forced naked up a muddy hill, enclosed by fences, even in the middle of winter with snow on the ground, with the gas chamber and crematorium ovens waiting at the top of the hill. The smell of shit as people couldn’t control themselves in the face of their own death. The worst thing for the people who survived was that nobody could understand what they had gone through. It is impossible to really know but I think we owe it to them to at least try.

From The Dora Case to Hunky Dory

Probably the most famous case study by Freud is the Dora Case (case from 1900 and published in 1905) and rereading it recently I couldn’t help feeling that one can see key elements of the Dora Case as representation of the hysteric structure in contemporary life. I realise that it’s maybe somewhat vulgar to point towards iconic figures and make overgeneralised statements about their psychic makeup but nevertheless it is interesting to see possible common attributes. The hysteric structure is, in some ways, the most interesting structure which is why so many become the focus of attention in entertainment and although the analytic distinction is predominant in women, the psychoanalytic structure is also adopted by male hysterics and maybe an example might be the wonderful David Bowie? The Hunky Dory album cover image was influenced by a Marlene Dietrich photo book that Bowie took to the photo shoot and it could be like a fabulous hysteric’s take on an hysteric. Hysterics are endlessly fascinating because they have a sense of unrest and need to question themselves and the culture and society they are immersed in and comedy too (look at Eddy Izzard) is the language of the hysteric.

The first of Dora’s two dreams was centred around a jewel box and it is the box which is significant, not necessarily the jewels that are contained. Take Lady Ga-Ga who will go through huge excesses to create herself as the object as container but there is always the sense that the container will be questioned. Am I a woman is the big question for an hysteric and it takes a lot of effort to create herself as woman.

The second dream of Dora represents the hysteric’s desire to be desired but not in fact to be the object of the other’s satisfaction and there is the famous Dora scene by the lake, when Mr K kisses her – and she runs away. Freud questions why a girl of eighteen would refuse the advance of a man, who apparently looked not unlike a 28 year old Oliver Reed. In respect of the desire of the desire of the other what about the exotic Bathsheba, in the scene from ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’ where Farmer Boldwood sends her a Valentine Card. She enjoyed being the object of desire but was horrified by the advances as object of the other’s satisfaction, a typically hysteric position.

Sexuality for the hysteric structure is central and Dora was introduced to sexuality by one of her governesses and also the family friend Frau K who kept a selection of ‘funny’ magazines and the route of discovery to the knowledge of sexuality must be hugely significant – today it will probably be through the mediation of internet porn sites, or more recently the increasing popularity of sexting and one wonders what impact that this will have on the future psycho-sexual world? The consensus seems to recognise a fall in real flesh sex as the internet world is turning the tide from neurotic structures to psychotic structures.

There is also the aspect of a love triangle with the hysteric subject. In the Dora case; Dora and the father and Mrs K but an hysteric partner will often orchestrate a situation where she or he will be in rivalry with another woman/or man that the partner is attracted to. This is a crucial part in the identity and identification and can cause endless confusion and complications leading sometimes to relationship breakups.

The Dora case was where Freud first introduces the concept of the transference. The idea that we project onto the other that of another relationship and in the Dora case Freud was convinced that Dora was relating to him as Mr K or more fundamentally as her father and this was probably the point at which Dora suddenly announced that the next session would be her last and to Freud it seemed that it could be a punishment directed at her father. This idea of transference, or projection, is very much in common parlance today but the Dora case is also testimony as to how it can be misjudged …

Bears and beers

Freud in his book The Psychopathology of Everyday Life explores how words aren’t just related to singular meanings but that they can morph and join together into different forms or become related in wrong spellings to other words. I just had a memory of one of my recent analytic sessions where I was recounting a dream from the previous night and I was telling my analyst how in the dream I was lying on his couch about to start analysis and he had handed me a beer in a glass that belonged to my grandmother. In the session we looked at what a beer represented for me and I first had to admit that I aways made the confusion in spelling between that of bear and beer. In texts I will always suggest going for a bear, unless I consciously go back to recheck the spelling. Then I talked about how going for a beer (bear) represented the idea of intimacy with a male friend. A kind opportunity of bonding in some ways – a kind of liquid hug. My analyst handing me a beer in a glass that belonged to my grandmother seemed inappropriate – too intimate. I realised that I was crossing a line and speaking about it was crossing a line with my analyst. Marking out lines are important to articulate our relationships and marking out divisions create our fundamental relationship to language but it is also important to question those lines too. In psychoanalysis there is a dramatic and violent term for it – ‘symbolic castration’ and questioning and examining the lines and divisions in our individual dissected embodiment of the process gets right to the kernel of who we are and who we are becoming15590564_941829305950672_573409901747809164_n

WILD AT HEART (and the question of the fantasy layer) 


That we experience the world through the mediation of fantasy, and that fantasy teaches us how to desire is the bread and butter of cinema. But Lynch asks in Wild at Heart the question, what it would be like to be immersed only and totally in the world of fantasy – and I wonder whether this is a question that we are engaged in our own hyper-real world today?

Fantasy isn’t accessed in a remote part of the mind but illuminates our everyday life. It’s not something that is exclusively experienced by the super elite who light up the flat screens of our living rooms. In fact we can’t experience the Real in it’s stark reality – it has to be mediated through the lens of our fantasy. 

Certain institutions such as the BBC, broadsheet newspapers, government, the monarchy and the crown court system gave us a sense of stability and consistency and completeness even if it was seen as something to be opposed. However now it has been revealed as the layer of fantasy that in the Wizard of Oz (one of the inspirations for David Lynch’s film) is made real when the curtain is drawn back to reveal the clunky machinery and the pathetic figure of a man speaking through a PA microphone. Wild at Heart is unrelentingly excessive; explicit sex and violence and Lynch takes away all coordinates to a sense of a known world of desire. It is jouissance unleashed and dangerous.

The cloak of fantasy has been lifted on our known world but we know that it must and can only be draped over another Real, a Real that we can’t experience without the fantasy. America has always led the way in the invention of new fantasies and it would seem that a new fantasy has now been mapped onto the Real in the form of the excessive vulgarity of Donald Trump. We watch with an obsessive jouissance (jouissance in the psychoanalytic form of pleasure combined with excessive anxiety) the laying bare of this new fantasy layer.

The Three Passions; Love Hate and Ignorance

I went to a really interesting seminar today given by Renata Salecl titled The Three Passions; Love, Hate and Ignorance (referencing the psychoanalytic work of Jacques Lacan) and it concentrated mostly the passion for ignorance and how ignorance plays such an active role in society. After all ignorance, in many ways, helps us maintain a sense of sanity but the discussion opened out into a broader look at how it is being used politically. Also the proliferation of hate. Are the breaking down of structures providing a potential for a new left in politics or is it just indulging in the enjoyment or the jouissance of a quasi ‘Death Drive’ – an enjoyment in the process of destruction without care for creating something better? I fear it is the latter … this video is from a couple of years ago but touches on some of the ideas covered today.