New Spring Semester for the Lacan Guided Reading Group

It is time for a new semester at the Lacan Guided Reading Group. Our spring semester will begin on the 5th of March (19:15) and, as was festively announced last week, will involve the reading of two chapters in Lacan’s Seminar XX: On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge (Encore)  (1972-1973).

(Collage: Jorge Chamorro)

“The great question that has never been answered and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is ‘What does a woman want?’” (Freud)

Jacques Lacan (1901-1981) was a French psychiatrist who has been dubbed the most controversial psychoanalyst since Freud. Calling for a “return to Freud” in mid 20th century Europe, Lacan had re-conceptualized psychoanalysis in such ways that deeply impacted psychotherapy and philosophy up until this day. One of the major topics Lacan chose to penetrate in his teaching is the notion of sexual difference. Freud, in his account of sexual difference, argued that the whole range of human sexuality is solely determined on the basis of the phallus. Accordingly, he inferred that there is only one form of libido—masculine libido. Going beyond Freud’s rendition of feminine libido in his notion of “penis envy,” Lacan provided a subversive account of a singular form of feminine enjoyment in his teaching. He argued that, while masculine subjects only have access to phallic enjoyment (“enjoyment of the Idiot”), feminine subjects are “not-all” (pas-tout) subsumed by the phallus and have access to another form of enjoyment “beyond the phallus.” Lacan’s Seminar XX is devoted to the exploration of such an evasive mode of enjoyment that Freud found it impossible to know anything about. 

In the Lacan Guided Reading Group, we will trace Lacan’s train of thought concerning masculine and feminine enjoyment by reading two chapters from this seminar entitled: “God and Woman’s Jouissance” and “A Love Letter.” What is an enjoyment beyond the phallus? What is so mystifying about feminine enjoyment? And what is knowledge of sexual difference? 

Join us for the reading of Jacques Lacan’s Seminar XX: On Feminine Sexuality, the Limits of Love and Knowledge (Encore) (1972-1973).

Format:

The reading of Lacan is done together as a group and is facilitated by Leon Brenner. No prior reading is required before our gatherings. We read the text slowly, trying to delve into each paragraph, deciphering Lacan’s unique style and extracting very straightforward and non-metaphorical ideas. Other than learning about the psychoanalysis of Lacan, we will also be learning how to read Lacan—a challenge in itself. Make sure to come with a receptive and light-hearted mood—the goal is to enjoy this reading together (if we want to). Reading material will be distributed in each session.

Group sessions will be held every Tuesday, 19:00 – 20:30 (March 3, 12, 19 & 26; April 2, 9, 16 & 30; May 7, 14, 21 & 28; More to be announced).

Facilitator:

Leon Brenner is a teacher and a scholar specializing in the fields of Lacanian psychoanalysis, contemporary French philosophy and autism theory. Brenner has graduated with the highest honor a B.A and M.A in Psychology and Philosophy. His doctoral dissertation concerns the subject of autism in philosophy and is entitled, The Autistic Subject: On the Threshold of Language. Brenner has received two excellence awards as a junior university teacher: the University Rector excellence award, and the Deanship excellence award. He is currently engaged in several scholarly and artistic projects in Berlin and is a resident instructor at Stillpoint Spaces Berlin.

Address: 

The entrance to The Lab of Stillpoint Spaces Berlin is directly from the street Hobrechtstraße 66 – front building, ground floor (Vorderhaus, EG). We kindly ask you to arrive at least 15 minutes before the official beginning of the reading group. Please, do not ring on any of the doorbells, as our colleagues might be having counseling sessions.

I hope to see you all in our new semester.

Leon Brenner

 

Autistic Sameness: Lacan with Amanda Baggs

Leo Kanner, an American psychologist, was one of the first practitioners to differentiate what we know today as “autism” from the field of childhood psychosis. Assessing a variety of characteristics in the behaviour of his autistic patients, he went on to identify two main behavioural categories – aloneness, and sameness. Aloneness is characterised by Kanner as the autistic child’s non-communicability, avoidance of eye contact, and general disinterest in others. Kanner reports that autistic children often spend the day in solitude, ignoring and excluding anything situated outside their closed-off inner world. Sameness is defined by Kanner as the autistic child’s anxious and obsessive preference for order and repetition. Kanner reports that any change in routine can lead the autistics to experience a surge of unbearable anxiety. Thus, in the aim of warding off this anxiety, the autistic child meticulously keeps the world in the same state, situating things in the same place, and in the same order they were discovered in the first place.

In today’s clinic of autism these two diagnostic categories have dissipated into what is defined as Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This “spectrum” is demarcated by two diagnostic categories, that of the low functioning and the high functioning autistic. These categories are determined in accordance to a list of behavioural and sensory criteria, accumulating into a person’s exact designation on the spectrum. Be that as it may, the Lacanian clinic of autism refuses to adopt this quantitive approach and offers a variety of qualitatively distinct diagnostic criteria for autism. Taking into account the subject’s relation to language, and accordingly, the way in which the subject utilises language in the mediation and treatment of jouissance.

Jouissance, which could be translated to English as “enjoyment” (yet it shouldn’t), is a well established Lacanian notion, complexifying Freud’s account of the libido, and his economic model in general. For the sake of our discussion today we will just view it as an excess of excitation which is rooted in the subject’s body and mediated by language. Because one of the most basic Lacanian characterisations of autistic subjectivity is a limited access to language, in the Lacanian clinic we say that autistics have a hard time regulating their jouissance. Without access to the signifier, jouissance runs wild, it has no limit, no border; invading the body from the outside, and tormenting the subject with unbearable bursts of excitation. Two strategies autistic subjects employ in order to protect themselves from such invasions of jouissance can be associated with Kanner’s account of aloneness and sameness. First, through their radical division from the outside world (aloneness), and their encapsulation in what Margaret Mahler had defined as the “autistic shell”, autistics protect themselves from the anxiety accompanying their unbridled jouissance. Autistics solely disposed to aloneness are usually diagnosed by clinicians as low functioning autistics, as they barely behave in ways which can be defined by psychologists as “adaptive”. Sameness, on the other hand, can be better discerned in the autistic use of language. Through their use of different signs they pickup from their environment – usually signs entailing a specific and constant patterns – autistics signify their world, providing it with a sense of predictability and order.

Lacan explicitly argues that autistics are “rather verbose”. That is, they are subjects of language. But, lacking access to the domain of the signifier, they are strictly disposed to the logic of sign. Now, the difference between a “sign language” and a language composed of signifiers is accounted for by Lacan, but yet again will not be deliberated today. We can simply say that there’s a big difference between the two. A difference which effects the nature and composition of the language used by autistic subjects, but more than anything, has a big effect on the capacity of language to mediate jouissance. While the signifier “quantifies” jouissance – it gives it meaning, which can be conveyed in words, and transmitted between subjects – the sign does not quantify jouissance, but can only “frame” it. Thus, we see how a language composed of signs can keep jouissance at bay, providing some solace for the autistic child, but cannot attribute transmittable meaning to his or her jouissance. In this sense, Jean-Claude Maleval argues that in autism there is an essential split between jouissance and language.

Nevertheless, there is way for autistics to use sign language in the exploration of their relation to jouissance. Through a language which “frames” jouissance, but cannot transmit it. This would be a “private language”, which “treats” jouissance, without making sense out of it; a language which provides the subject with an immediate access to jouissance, but not with its articulation. Similarly to the phenomena of synethstethia, it intersects emotional and sensory excitation, with a language composed of repetitive movements, sounds, tastes, etc. Through this language, the autistic gains a sense of mastery over jouissance, but is still disposed to a solitary state, as he or she cannot transmit this language to others.

In a very famous and moving youtube video, autistic subject and advocate, Amanda Baggs, attempts to explains her unique relation to language. Making sense of the world under her terms – “in my language” – she provides herself with an access to jouissance which seems alien to the unsuspecting eye. I suggest you spend nine minutes and watch this youtube clip. Try and view it as an utterly inventive language, through which Baggs opens a channel to her internal emotional and sensual world. Constructing a language which “frames” her jouissance, but does so at the price of cutting her from the people she loves as long as she drifts off into it.