[my emphasis] to provide an analytic space where it becomes possible for the patient to arrive at singular kinds of answers’ (p.506). This is where the value of ongoing dialogue between clinicians and philosophical writers becomes evident. I agree that the analyst’s stance is to facilitate the analysand’s singularity rather than to prescribe answers, and I greatly admire Ruti’s ability to convey dense philosophical ideas. However, the adverb ‘merely’ doesn’t adequately convey the difficulty of establishing a space for the painful and terrifying collapse of an analysand’s most cherished fantasies. The existential difficulty of living with an awareness of the void of our being, or the visceral shock experienced when our fantasies collapse2
, are also understated by the metaphors she uses throughout the paper to describe ontological lack: e.g. melancholy, fog horn, muted echo. These are romantic terms that don’t capture the terror, horror and pain that I often feel in the consulting room via my embodied countertransference when faced with the analysand’s ‘fall of fantasies’ or collapse of identity.
2For a description of the clinical impact of these issues, two papers come to mind: Hinton, L. (2007), ‘Black holes, uncanny spaces and radical shifts in awareness’. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 52: 433– 447 and Austin, S. (2009), ‘Jung’s dissociable psyche and the ec-static self’. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 54: 581–599.
Ruti concludes her paper with an emphasis on singularity:
One could in fact say that the process of becoming a singular subject, from a distinctively Lacanian point of view, is first and foremost a matter of knowing that even though the question of the “sovereign good” is from the outset closed, questions that sustain us as creatures of becoming and psychic potentiality—questions pertaining to desire, creativity, and the passion of self-actualization…are ones that can be closed only by our own (non) actions (p. 507).
This is the point where the paper evoked a particular disturbance in me. By choosing to engage with only one aspect of ‘early’ Lacan, Ruti creates an ‘historical’ Lacan whose thought can be divided into neat epochs, thus allowing her to emphasize the creative subject who has the capacity to question and engage in the world for the sake of ‘self-realization’. However, by creating an ‘early’ Lacan, her paper excludes the ethical subject who is primordially called to struggle with the uncanny other-with-an-unconscious (the particular fantasy organization of the other’s jouissance). Ruti emphasizes how narcissistic fantasies limit our creative engagement with the world, but she does not articulate the danger of these narcissistic fantasies to the actual other in a contingent world where the “sovereign good” is always already foreclosed. The emergence of the ethical subject is taken up in Lacan’s ‘later’ work where he elaborates the relationship between the kernel of the Real and jouissance as the unknowable, untranslatable, core of our being3. The ethical subject is also taken up by those who have elaborated Lacan’s ideas—e.g. Butler, Santner, Laplanche and Zizek4.
3After completing this review, I was introduced to another paper by Ruti that brilliantly discusses the relationship of singularity and character-formation emerging in response to the Real and jouissance; she draws on the work of Zizek, Santner, Zupancic and Badiou to articulate the value of ‘rebelliousness’ as a way to break through the oppression of normative sociality. See: Ruti, M. (2010). ‘The singularity of being: Lacan and the immortal within’. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Assoc., 58, 1113-1138.
In this paper Ruti engages the big ‘Other’ only as synonymous with the symbolic order equated with language and the law. There is no mention of the actual other, (emphasized, e.g. in the work of Laplanche) where another subject takes the place of the big Other and embodies both the demands of the symbolic order and radical alterity. Ruti posits self-reflexivity as a basis for our singularity as subjects; it allows us to shape creative possibilities for our own lives. However, the capacity for self-reflexivity also enables us to question and reflect on the ways in which we unconsciously demand that those actual others (who are also subjects) conform to our narcissistic fantasies. It allows us to reflect on our response to the other’s dense particularity when confronted with their disturbing alterity. This capacity to bear anxiety in the face of the gap of our own being also allows us to bear the anxiety of the unknowable gap in the other. In other words, lack not only facilitates the emergence of a subject with the capacity for generating creative new possibilities for his or her own life, but lack also gives rise to an ethical subject.
At a macro level, narcissistic conceits that promise self-coherence, artificially closing the gap in our being by generating comforting fantasies of wholeness, become the ideologies of groups. And when an individual does not conform to the demands of the group’s ideological assumptions, then the stage is set for the annihilation of the other (as has repeatedly occurred in modern genocides). It is the ethical subject who can question narcissistic fantasies and collective ideologies. This questioning opens the space to imagine new possibilities for engaging with the other, whether the familiar neighbor or the uncanny stranger. If we only focus on the subject of creativity and self-realization and neglect to articulate the responsible ethical subject, there is a risk that we will fail to illuminate the everyday ‘little violences’ that we and our analysands unconsciously perpetrate against the other. And without a binary focus on creativity and ethics, there is the likelihood of perpetuating conformity, stagnant thinking, and psychic violence through adherence to the ideologies that shape our psychoanalytic discourses.
Butler, J. (2003). ‘Violence, mourning, politics’. Studies in Gender and Sexuality, 4, 1, 9–37.
________ (2005). Giving an Account of Oneself. New York: Fordham University Press.
Hinton, A. (2002). ‘The dark side of modernity: toward anthropology of genocide’. In Annihilating Difference: The Anthropology of Genocide, ed. A. Hinton. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Laplanche, J. (1999). Essays on Otherness. New York: Routledge.
Santner, E. (2001). On the Psychotheology of Everyday Life. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Zizek, S. (2006). The Parallax View. Cambridge: MIT Press.