Ideology, Clinical Structures and the Ethical Challenge to the Analyst

January 26, 2023

Hilda Fernandez


“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”  - Lacan¹

“It almost looks as if analysis were the third of those ‘impossible’ professions in which one can be sure beforehand of achieving unsatisfying results. The other two, which have been known much longer, are education and government” –  Freud²

‘I am crazy about you Freud’  - Lacan³

This morning I want to thread together three concepts: Ideology, clinical structures and the ethics of the analytical act. My intention is to reflect on the stability of the diagnostic categories in psychoanalysis (neurosis, psychosis and perversion) and its ideological element. I argue that the ethics of psychoanalysis, an ethics of desire, cannot be realized within the ideological element of the theory, so the latter has to be somewhat suspended when undertaking an analytical act. I propose utilizing the diagnostic clinical structures — an example of a crucial element in psychoanalytical theory — as logics rather than fixed structures that guide the analyst in the exercise of his act.  The theory, an ideological necessity, is questioned on some of its limitations regarding psychoanalytic therapy.

These paragraphs emerge as a response to my own experience of the limited tool, the somehow vacuous place that diagnosis provides in the clinical setting. Whereas it is important to know whether one is in front of a subject with a particular neurotic, psychotic or perverse structure, so as to prevent guiding your interventions towards an impasse, a diagnosis does not give an analyst much guidance as to how to inquire into a particular structure. The latter is part of what is called “analytical technique” in most milieus and in Lacan is redefined as the analyst’s “style,” clearly tied to his desire and his ethics.

Traditionally, diagnosis belongs to a clinical triad: diagnosis, prognosis and treatment. The way we deal with diagnosis in psychoanalysis is very different from its use in psychology and an abundant literature has been written on this point by Lacanian scholars.4 Whereas in both psychology and psychoanalysis the diagnoses serve the purpose of a treatment plan, in psychology the classification aims at identifying symptoms, finding patterns and placing the configuration of behaviours in relationship to certain norms of a given society. In psychoanalysis there is no possible norm.

The prognosis of an individual treatment is perhaps the most conspicuous difference in the way diagnosis is used in psychology and psychoanalysis. There is no possible way to predict how the truth of a particular subject would impact the possibility of her desire.

Originally, this paper’s title was elicited by a critical intention addressed to the way Bruce Fink describes the goal of treatment in psychosis in his book A Clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis (1997). Fink says that “The goal, superficially stated, is to return the imaginary to the stable state that characterize it prior the psychotic break…because there is no place for the dialectic of desire: there is no properly human desire at all in psychosis…” (p 101). I believe that with such a statement Fink runs the risk of coagulating the very fertile terrain of intervention in psychosis.5 However I slightly refocussed my gaze after reading his afterword in the same book where he says “I have taken Lacan’s ‘antisystem’ …and presented its formal, system like-elements…I shall be attacked for having oversimplified, and it is true” (p 18).

As a clinician I understand the challenge of measuring oneself with Lacanian theory. Whereas Lacan succeeds effectively in his act by sustaining a mi-dire, a half saying, leaving a legacy that is never fully mastered, the modern Lacanian psychoanalyst has the curse of trying to advance the transmission of psychoanalysis at the expense of betraying the spirit of the unfettered Lacanian theory. It has almost became commonplace to start or end a Lacanian talk with an apology for stabilizing concepts, for reducing them to concrete entities in an attempt to advance an issue. What is at stake in the transmission of psychoanalysis is not that type of knowledge understood as accumulation of information, but rather a knowledge (savoir) about a certain lack that is transmitted through a certain practice. So how can one advance an act and a transmission without betraying its ethics? That’s the spirit of this paper and there is no answer to that question — except with an act.


Why bring a complex concept such as ideology to the salad of diagnosis and ethics in psychoanalytic practice? The motivation comes from an intention to build a bridge between a crucial social concept and the way we conceive the clinical practice of psychoanalysis. Or to put it psychoanalytically: it is my response to the Other (social theory) that is strongly represented in the Lacan Salon.

Althusser in “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” (1970) retakes Marx, as he does, to propose that “there is no practice except by and in ideology” and that there is no ideology except “by the subject for the subject” (p 28).

I will follow Althusser in terms of the imaginary but material dimension of ideology and how it reproduces the relations of production. In other words, we will see psychoanalytic theory as an ideology — an imaginary construction that affects the reality of the production of our analytical act. But I will also introduce Žižek’s approach to ideology as he incorporates the antagonism between the symbolic and the real and locates ideology as the Lacanian fantasy.6

Althusser says that ideology represents “the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence” (p 23) and that ideology has a material existence in terms of the ideas and ideals that guide someone’s behaviour, attitudes, actions and practices. So every theory is an ideology in Althusserian terms, and Lacanian and Freudian theories are not an exception.  We guide our interventions following what they worked through in their lifetime and we conceptualize what the patient in front of us suffers based on the Freudian/Lacanian apparatus of thought.

Ideology poses a radical exclusion, always incompatible with the I. “The accusation of being in ideology only applies to others, never to oneself” (p 31). It’s exactly what happens with the category of “being old,” isn’t it?

Althusser adds that “every subject endowed with a consciousness and believing in the ideas that his consciousness inspires in him and freely accepts, must act according to his ideas…If he does not do so, that is wicked” (p 26) and not in the cool sense of the world, but rather cynical, pervert, inconsistent.

It is well known that the practice of psychoanalysis is not fully conscious. When sitting in his chair, the analyst is subjected to his own unconscious as well as his conscious: his associations, intrusive thoughts, fantasies, sensations, the gauging of his interventions, etc. The desire to be an analyst sustains the possibility of concentrating on the analysand’s discourse. In the loneliness of his practice, the analyst has as his main compass the desire to be an analyst, which is not “not conscious”, quite the contrary, he goes into his practice fully aware of this desire as it is an “experienced desire” (Seminar VII p300), a desire that was worked through his own experience of analysis and that often is of a forced-choice nature: I practice psychoanalysis because I can’t do anything else.7

But yet the Althusserian point is that the ideology — here understanding it as the psychoanalytical theory at an imaginary level — is centered in an authority – in our case in Freud and Lacan — and involves obedience to the ideas of our leaders if we want to be consistent and regarded as credible. It’s the hailing, the interpellation of that “unique and absolute subject”: Freud, Lacan or any of the new leaders who call to the psychoanalyst “hey you there!” (p 30) to recruit him. The response to the authority of the leaders is of a transferential nature, no doubt.

The ideological element of following the leader and the creation of a mirror-like structure particularly infests formal associations (all of them, IPA, WAP, Ecole Lacanianne, etc.) where no matter what is said, the living creature that an institution is measures the faithful member by the way theory is regarded in that particular institution and how it stands against the “rivals.”

In “Group Psychology” (1927) Freud analyses the libidinal structure of groups and explains that individuals connect to the other (small other) through libidinal investments that attract each other and promote identification among them. Freud provides a formula for the libidinal constitution of a group/crowd: “A primary group of this kind is a number of individuals who have put one and the same object in the place of their ego ideal [ichideal] and have consequently identified themselves with one another in their ego” (p 110) Freud also adds that the leader is precisely occupying the place of such ego ideal.8 Therefore a double libidinal bonding is required in a group: among the individuals and with the leader.9

There’s nothing wrong with following the leaders in transference, but ideology might hinder the possibility of a critical stand. When we do not have a critical distance from the set of ideas in the theory that guides us, we run the risk of ignoring or misrecognizing what Althusser posits as the “reproduction of the relations of production”(p 35).

I would argue that in the psychoanalytic field the “relations of production” points out at the way one approaches the suffering subject: the model of treatment. Psychoanalysis is located against the hegemonic discourse of mental health (MH) and pragmatic solutions to suffering. These divergent approaches separate those that attend public from those that attend private practices. MH services provide an approach that perpetuates a practice by means of reproducing research and models such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Although the latter is a form of therapy that has its function and helps people, its exclusive reproduction within the research and therapeutic approaches of the MH system prevents addressing challenges and advancing issues by means of other theories.10 MH management shapes mental health services – within hospitals, public agencies, universities, etc. – in such a way as to allow certain models to become hegemonic, with the underlying rationale of cost/benefit. This is a significant issue that involves the quality of care, the creation of possibilities for the subject and relations to class. This issue is both fertile and of major importance, but there is not enough space to explore it here (not yet).

If there is no possible way we can live without ideology/theory, how do we avoid the automatization and coagulation of the concepts that a psychoanalyst uses to guide his practice, such as the theoretical constructions of: Unconscious, Symptom, Transference, Drive, etc.

Žižek conceptualizes ideology as the Lacanian fantasy. In his book, The Sublime Object of Ideology (2009), he explains that in the antagonism existent between the Symbolic (that searches for naming and signification) and the Real (that would not allow the latter) there is a traumatic kernel, a leftover that won’t cede to interpretation or signification.

$◊a is the Lacanian formula of fantasy or fantasm (my preferred term for the ghostly element involved in this signifier) where two heterogeneous elements: $ — the barred subject of symbolic desire — and object petite – the residual object cause of desire — encounter and disencounter (◊ the diamond or losange indicates both union and disunion) within an imaginary production. Or as Miller puts it: “It is a solution that one can call imaginary, evidently, in the fashion in which it enunciates itself; that can also be good if you lack a way to give an interpretation. That also presentifies the lack in the Other” (Miller 1982).

Fantasy “is a basic scenario filling out the empty space of a fundamental impossibility, a screen masking a void” (Žižek p126). A void that coincides with the lack in the Other.

Žižek places fantasy in the very realm of reality (it is reality) and travels from the Marxist concept of ideology (“they do not know but they are doing it”) to the Althusserian ideological interpellation, to the post-ideological cynicism of the “I know it and yet I am still doing it.”

Ideology then, for Žižek, would be, similar to the fantasy, a residue of non-symbolized traumatic kernel, and  “this leftover, far from hindering the full submission of the subject to the ideological command, is the very condition of it: it is precisely this non-integrated surplus of senseless traumatism which confers on the Law its unconditional authority: in other words, which – in so far as it escapes ideological sense — sustains what we might call the ideological jouis-sense, enjoyment-in-sense  (enjoy-meant), proper to ideology” (p 43).

If we continue our proposal of psychoanalytic theory as an ideological construction, following Žižek we would encounter the idea that the very “non-integrated traumatism” would perhaps be the impossibility of theory reflecting on its own construction and its non-sensical kernel. Additionally, theory will attempt to covering the lack of the Other: to that what I can’t understand, to the difficulty of the clinical, I respond with theory.

The relationship of the psychoanalyst to psychoanalytic theory participates in fantasy: the analyst submits to the ideological element of psychoanalytic theory (this very text demonstrates it) and yet an analytic act could not be ethically sustained if that very same ideology (the fantasy of the theory) is not subverted. Put in better words: the possibility of an analytic act is contingent on the subversion of the fantasm of theory.

Theory is always recalibrating with the experience of practice and therefore being itself questioned. Theory is being reshaped constantly, evolving with new times and new discoveries, creating new principles. One of the problems in the relationship between theory and practice in psychoanalysis is that the latter can become a matter of adequacy to the first: regulation, reification or a preempting with prepackaged knowledge. When that happens, the relationship between the theory and the practice turns into a flagrant exercise of ideology: taken beyond a useful compass, theory becomes a way of covering the kernel of the real in order to answer the lack of language, the lack of the Other.

In his “Foundational Act” (1964) Lacan invites us to “test and critique the categorical terms and the structures… when sustaining a practice.”  The way theory is regarded when conducting a practice is crucial to the ethics of such a practice. With regard to the psychoanalytic act, theory has to occupy an unsettling locus, a constant revisionism, so as to allow a necessary questioning and dialogue with practice.

One time I attended a conference on narrative therapy. These therapists mainly follow Michel Foucault and they posed a number of more interesting and richer approaches than the mainstream ones, such as how social discourses are shaped and how these become power and oppression. However, I got more and more disappointed when I witness how, for example in a discussion of couple’s therapy, the therapists assumed without much reflection that the woman was historically oppressed by the patriarchal discourse and that the man had to assume that. As a dear colleague of mine jokingly says “in narrative therapy you have to explain first how the patient has been oppressed [assumed prepackaged knowledge] and then you do therapy.” I thought such assumed generalizations most unfortunate, and I believe that the risk of getting into such ideological stands is greater when there is no ethical discussion at the core of the practice.


In order to discuss the ethics, I first want to explore the three diagnostic structures of neurosis, perversion and psychosis.

What do we understand by structure? The Oxford dictionary says that a structure is “an arrangement of parts, elements, or constituents. A complex system considered from the point of view of the whole rather than of any single part.”

Structure is not about patterns but rather the arrangement of elements.  This arrangement of elements is always incomplete. An architectural structure, for example, will be reshaped, even if not perceptually to the eye, with the weather, little accidents, the passage of time. But subjects are far more complex than a building and more unpredictable.

What are the elements that are at stake in the three clinical structures neurosis, perversion and psychosis?

There is a wealth of literature around the three clinical structures and their correspondent underlying mechanisms of repression, disavowal, and foreclosure respectively. From Jacques Alain Miller, to Paul Verhaeghe, Joel Dör, Bruce Fink, Colette Soler, and others, the structures are the obliged starting point to approach the “clinical” Lacan, and yet in Lacan’s own work the clinical structures are never systematized, so I wonder if we are not doing to the three clinical structures what Fenichel did to Freud’s stages of development?

The three clinical structures incorporate the theory of libido and desire, indicating the ways in which a subject shapes her discourse and her body: suffering and enjoyment. The story goes like this.

We are all polymorphous perverse at birth says Freud in “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality” (1905) Freud’s central theory of the drives is also found in the Entwurf: “A Project for a Scientific Psychology” (1895) and in “Instincts and their Vicissitudes” (1915).

The baby is inhabited by a number of excitations, coming from the external world, but mainly from his internal world. The drive is a construction in the frontier between the body and the psyche. The drive is a psychoanalytical myth Freud stated.  As such, the drive (the Freudian Trieb) has the elements of:  a source (Quelle) in the orifices of the body; a thrust (Drang), the push and quantity of energy; an aim (Ziel), multiple, partial and independent of somatic sources; and an object (Objekt) which is always variable and contingent.

The drive implies a constant source of tension11 that early on the little human will try to manage with the help of the mother, the father or whoever is the main care provider. With their help, the baby organizes some of those drives by “binding them” through cathexis, investing them into representations. Freud divides them into Sachvorstellung(representation of things) and Wortvorstellung (representation of words), the latter creating the basis of the chain of signifiers.

The drives are either repressed through the experience of trauma – in the psychoanalytical sense — or will run free as “quantum of affect” giving grounds to anxiety. There are other vicissitudes for the drive, as Freud developed it, such as formation reaction, channeling towards oneself or sublimation.

The drive is something that resembles a surrealistic “montage” (Seminar XI p 169) and that has two sides “which, at one and the same time, makes present sexuality in the unconscious and represents, in its essence, death” (p199), that embodies a historical dimension (Seminar VII p 209) and a paradoxical satisfaction that brings “into play the category of the impossible” (Seminar XI p 166). The drive might denote for some a raw force, but JA Miller explicitly states that the drive is “cooked” and of a very sophisticated nature. Verhaeghe will add that the drive is not animal as often described and strikingly adds that among the animals “there is no Auschwitz” (1999, p 150).

So this is the background in which the Oedipus complex will take place. For Freud the process of the oedipal conflict is slightly different between boys and girls (there is a change of object for the woman), and the castration anxiety is what ends the oedipal situation.

In Lacan the oedipal complex is rewritten as the paternal metaphor, which allows the introduction of the subject into a discourse and to the possibility of his/her desire. Where Freud sees the child finding the threat of castration as a potential result of his incestuous desire, Lacan sees precisely the awareness of castration as what sets the oedipal function in motion.

The Oedipus complex occurs in three moments: the baby experiences a fusion, is one with the mother, but by means of both maturation (perception of her own body as separated from the mother’s) and through the mother’s own actions, the young child realizes that she is not sufficient to satisfy her mother’s desire; that there is something else that the mother wants (“I am in lack, so is my mother”). Through this realization that he is not the object that completes the Other, and the acceptance of the paternal function — “This woman is not for you, when you grow up you will have a woman of your own” or “you will marry a man like Daddy” — the child assumes a signifier, the name of the father, which signifies an absence that is represented by the phallus (- phi).

We think of the Oedipal conflict as a business of the little one, but it involves an intense dialectical with the parent’s own makeup of their incestuous drives. The prohibition falls into the mother and the father too: “you won’t reintegrate your product.”

When we talk about the Name of the Father we are talking about the establishment of a primordial signifier that will facilitate the possibility of locating the Other to allow signification. And it is called a metaphor because there is an element of substitution. The child substitutes the mother’s desire — which becomes an enigma at this point — for another obscure signifier which will be the phallus, in relationship to a third, the Other.

By accepting the frustrating act the baby and the parents welcome the symbolic. The language and the law are established by means of a compromising negotiation. I enter the law of language with a fundamental frustration and renunciation which allow me to inhabit language and it is with the signifier of the name of the father that I’ll structure myself in a discursive diachrony. This mechanism is at the level of language, not at the level of reality (and by that I mean that the creation of the law of language is independent of whether or not there is actual incest)

It is worth mentioning that for Lacan “the relation between the subject and the phallus …forms without regard to the anatomical distinction between the sexes,”12 and that there will be always a dual logic of either being the phallus or having it. The phallus will be a key element in the sexuation forms developed in “late Lacan” and in the love relationship between men and women.

The destiny of the subject’s structure will be shaped then in the very first place by the creation of this signifier and its ulterior relationship with his way of obtaining jouissance. The subject will structure himself in a double lack (real and symbolic): the subject is incomplete and so is the Other.


In perversion there is a disavowal of the signifier of the name of the father. The perverse subject (defined traditionally by his atypical sexual practice –exhibitionism, fetishism, masochism, etc., which nonetheless broadly involves a certain relation to the Law) relates to the Other as being the object (a) that is missing in the equation. Having the mother with a phallus as his fantasy, the perverse subject will engage with the Other reassuring it that it is him – an actual version of the object (a) — that completes and serves the Other. The Other therefore is made to enjoy the excess that the perverse provides. His ruthless motto is based on his will to enjoy and he invariably challenges the law.

The neurotic instead represses the signifier name of the father, the phallus. In the neurotic there are two categories: The hysteric and the obsessional. The hysteric, always feminine regardless of her biological gender, presents herself with a diversified symptomatic constellation that aims at demanding of the Other its object of desire. The hysteric complains about the Other – cause of her misfortune — and lives through a fantasy of wanting to do what she does not dare to (Freud’s so called “negative of perversion”).

The hysteric will try to negate at all cost the lack that dwells in her, and instead she will look for an ideal figure, a Master, which in a typical oral style, she will at the beginning incorporate, identify with and be fascinate by such Master, but soon after  be disappointed and castrate him as a result. The hysteric has a guilty pleasure written on her body so the symptom will be defended. One of Lacan’s definitions of the symptom is “jouissance that resists knowledge”. Also, as Freud mentioned in Dora’s case, the symptom is the most economical solution, the compromise agreement between the unconscious desire and the repressive forces.

The obsessional instead, with all his procrastination, anxiety and rituals, despises the Other and wants nothing to do with it, except to occupy the Other’s place, to control jouissance. The obsessional waits and waits, he knows how to do it. Hating the small other as well, which turns out to be, at the end of the signification, his own self, he often experiences his body as a burden, so he tries to erase it from the painful equation through “cadaverizing” it. With an anal style, the obsessional is usually quite aware of his jouissance and its excess (the Ratman and the feared torture), but knowing it does not prevent him from experiencing it. He waits for a misfortune to happen, so he prepares for it. He waits for the father or someone significant to die so he can start living. The problem of the obsessional is that he does not act as he fears excessive enjoyment. His abundant actions are a displacement of such restrained jouissance becoming meaningless in relationship to his desire. The obsessive can oscillate between a parsimonious and an overgenerous character. All is offered to the Other except his very own self.

The psychotic has a foreclosure, a basic failure of the phallus signifier. As  a result, the psychotic then suffers mainly from an alteration in his speech, experiencing the world between the imaginary and the scary real with a debilitation of the symbolic. I don’t believe that the psychotic is completely out of the symbolic and/or discourse because the practice testifies otherwise. The psychotic has a deep confusion regarding her sexuation. In his “On a Question Prior to Any Possible Treatment of Psychosis”  Lacan introduces what is the key question on the sexuated nature of human existence: “For it is an experiential truth for psychoanalysis that the question of the subject’s existence arises for him, not in the kind of the anxiety it provokes at the level of the ego, but as an articulated question “what am I there?” about his sex and contingency in being: that on the one hand he is a man or a woman and on the other that he might not be”(Ecrits p 459). That question is universal for any subject regardless of her structure, and yet the psychotic experiences it with a sort of perplexity. I have witnessed the psychotic subject in search of her ontic and ontological status, with the result that one of the particularities of the clinic of psychosis involves a dialogue aiming at the creation of a third — of language: the symbolic law.

The psychotic suffers from the lack of a lack.  That is to say, the object petit a has not left his body and remains unincorporated into it, which results in one of the most terrifying experiences. The psychotic has to fight hard to prevent being absorbed in the Other’s jouissance.

What can we say about this little and partial recitation of the common places of the analytical theory regarding clinical structures? How useful is it for an analyst? For me the clinical structures are mainly ways of locating jouissance and possibilities of desire in each individual, and the main use of these diagnostic categories resides in the identification of a certain arrangement of a fantasy and the treatment with which the analyst responds to such logic. More specifically these structures help us to define the tactics of the treatment. In ”The Direction of the Treatment and the Principle of Its Power” Lacan states: “The analyst is less free in his strategy than in his tactics” (Ecrits, p 493). Both terms emerge from the military jargon: tactics relate to the means or maneuvers to achieve certain goals and strategy to the plan or stratagem to achieve an end result.

What is involved in the strategy regarding diagnostic categories? I would say that in perversion the creation of a certain law that recognizes the limit of the lack in the Other; in neurosis, the possibility of signification of the repressed elements; in psychosis, the substitution or surrogacy of the name of the father. I believe with Verhaeghe that structures are not interchangeable (meaning that if you are psychotic you won’t become neurotic and so on). I also believe that the structure does not necessarily denote any particular “mental health” status. For example, people with psychosis might have better possibilities than some neurotics.

Another aspect is that in a given structure there are often issues that refer to symptoms characteristic of other structures: partial foreclosures in a neurotic; perverse symptoms in a psychotic; hysteric demands in a perverse individual etc. In “Direction of the Treatment” Lacan talks about a transitory perversion related to urine that turned out to be a neurosis in the form of phobia (p. 510).

Although useful to guide treatment, the clinical structures, being so close to psychological diagnoses pose the risk of making them into fixed categories that overwrite the singularity of the subject on the couch. Also the fact that often the structures are depicted as a certain little persona with their prepackaged narratives might be misleading.

Without aborting the importance of the structure, understood as the predominant arrangement of jouissance, desire, the place of the phallus and the place of the Other, I believe that the structures should serve as a loose stencil of a particular logic and allow the content of the spoken significations to take their place on it. Neurotic, perverse and psychotic as logics that might be working at different times in the same subject.  Lacan criticizes the “platitude” of Fenichel’s gathering together of psychoanalytic concepts, and although he sees some point in the systematization, it gives the impression that “everything is explained in advance.” “Analysis,” he says, “is not a matter of discovering in a particular case the differential feature of the theory” but rather of “overcoming the barrier of silence” (Seminar XI p 11).

An unconscious logic certainly lacks consistency, validity and completeness. In “My Teaching” Lacan says that unconscious logic is weaker and for that “it is much more interesting because it is much more difficult to make it stick, but it holds up all the same” (p. 32) like a spider, unconscious logic holds up in language.

Ideology is inevitable when we engage with theory as it is a fact that we follow the hailing of a master. Lacan said: “I am crazy about you Freud” (Milan Discourse, p7) and I’m sure many here are crazy about Freud and Lacan. What then prevents a practice from becoming an exercise in ideology? What brings to it the recognition of the “reproduction of the relations of production”? How do we overcome the fantasmatic grasp of the theory? The central issue is the exercise of the analytical practice within a particular ethics.


In my view, Lacan’s legacy to psychoanalysis is the centrality of ethics in its practice. What type of ethics is the ethics of the analytical act?  In Seminar VII Lacan replies an ethics that “implies the dimension that is expressed in what we call the tragic sense of life”

What is this tragic sense of life? The fact of his inevitable alienation by the Other, of his sacrificial nature or her structure based in a double lack? Or is it her being inhabited by the drives that won’t satisfy “outside of the satisfaction of all” (Lacan, Seminar XI, p. 22)? Perhaps all of these in the uniqueness of the phantasmatic arrangement of each subject.

To the tragedy of the modern man the analyst responds with the ethics of desire: That which is radically opposed to the service of goods. The so-called injunction to enjoy: you should enjoy a beautiful sunny day — especially in Vancouver — the discounts of Boxing Day, certain cool brands, the ecological and organic and political involvement of the modern hipster, etc. All these injunctions stand for the old “service of goods” (Lacan Seminar VII p 321) reloaded: the good shopper, the hygienic individual, the environmentally conscious, and the hedonistic. What if a night owl wants to work at 3am when the world rests and sleeps late every sunny day? What if he does not care about buying pesticide-treated garlics from China? These apparently banal examples, point out what we have to gauge in our practice: there is nothing of the norm that can have a place in the analysis if one has to respect the uniqueness of desire, the singularity of the subject that comes to us just the way he is.

The question is: “Have you acted in conformity with the desire that is in you?” (p. 311) or have you or someone else betray your hopes? Desire is often confused with wants (or demands), needs or even with the drives. The difference between desire and jouissance is a fundamental complex issue at the core of analytical practice, but we won’t go into this difference today as the time to conclude is soon.

If ethics “consist in a judgment of our action” (Seminar VII p 311), gauging and returning to the meaning of the ambiguous action that we undertake: how does the analyst do it? She signals and queries jouissance, he questions desire and appeals to its liberation by putting his finger in the wound of the renounced desire (that is after all the function of interpretation that Lacan proposes).

And for the psychoanalyst, this ethics means putting aside the ideals of any therapeutic, among which Lacan counts three: the ideal of human love, the ideal of authenticity and the ideal of non-dependence (Seminar XI p 8-10).

I believe that practicing an ethics of desire allows the analyst, without any “mushy mushy”, to be on the side of the subject (that is, clearly, not on the side of his ego) breaking apart with the speculative interpretations a la hermeneuticsthat often result in attempts to castrate the analysand.


In a very short article for an encyclopedia, called “Psychoanalysis” (1926), Freud stated “Psycho-analysis is founded securely upon the observation of the facts of mental life; and for that very reason its theoretical superstructure is still incomplete and subject to constant alteration”  (p 266).

Maybe we are unable to fully grasp the ideological element that guides us as psychoanalysts; such understanding is as incomplete as what we read in Gödel’s theorems: “the consistency of the axioms cannot be proven within the system.”13

Or as Lacan phrases it, “the analyst is fully aware that he cannot know what he is doing in psychoanalysis. Part of his action remains hidden even to him” (Seminar VII p 291).

Miller sets the horizon of the relationship with Lacanian theory “as a grinding of our Lacanian koinè ; an effort to fight against the banalization of what Lacan conquered at each moment, I mean against the very banality of his thought”14 (1982).

If it is true that to sustain an ethical practice we have to be supported with some theory/ideology, then unsettling it, criticizing it and deconstructing it, to perhaps follow it again, seems to me a good compromise, because doing so allows me to gauge my own action in the process.

If the ideological fantasy – an epistemological set of ideas/ideals, i.e. the above mentioned theory plus the analyst’s imaginary self-attributions — is necessary, the aim of psychoanalysis, nevertheless, is to traverse the subject’s fundamental fantasy15. If the “experienced desire” of the analyst is true, if her own fantasm has been broken, we could thus assume at least two premises: that the analyst should be prepared to go beyond the fantasm of theory to encounter his own jouissance in such ideology; and that the analyst could conduct the analysand’s treatment to the traversing of his fantasy (the analysand’s very private ideologies).

If sexuality is never a fully answered question; if neither it is the relationship with the other sex; then when confronted with the silence of drives, the barrier of the Real, the beyond speech, what is left? Meaning, act and a poem. “A poem that is being written, even if it looks like a subject.”

Thank you.

Hilda Fernandez
Vancouver, BC
May 2013


Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation).” “Lenin and Philosophy” and Other Essays Trans Ben Brewster. Monthly Review Press, 1971.

Dör, Joel. The Clinical Lacan (The Lacanian Clinical Field) Trans. Susan Fairfield. New York: Other Press, 1998.

Fink, Bruce. A clinical Introduction to Lacanian Psychoanalysis. Theory and Technique. Cambridge: Harvard Univ Press, 1997.

Freud, Sigmund. “”Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego” (1921).” Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: The Hogarth Press, 1973. Vol 18.

Freud, Sigmund. ““Analysis Terminable and Interminable” (1937).” Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: The Hogarth Press, 1973. Vol 23.

Freud, Sigmund. “Psychoanalysis (1926).” Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: The Hogarth Press, 1973. Vol 20.

Lacan, Jacques. ““On a Question Prior to Any Possible Treatment of Psychosis”.” Ecrits Trans. Bruce Fink. NY, 2006. 446-487.

Lacan, Jacques. ““The Signification of the Phallus”.” Ecrits Trans. Bruce Fink. NY: Norton, 2006. 575-584.

—. “On Psychoanalytical Discourse (Milan Discourse) May 12, 1972.” Lacan in Italia. Milan: La Salamandra, 1978. 1-14.

Lacan, Jacques. “The Direction of the Treatment and the Principle of Its Power.” Ecrits Trans. Bruce Fink. NY: Norton, 2006. 490-542.

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1 Seminar XI. p viii.

2 “Analysis Terminable and Interminable” (1937), p 248.

3 “On Psychoanalytical Discourse” or The Milan Discourse (1972), p 7.

4 I recommend Joël Dor (1998), Bruce Fink (1997) or Paul Verhaeghe (2008).

5 I believe that psychosis has the possibility of creating desire, as clinical evidence demonstrates. I believe that there is a possibility of establishing a dialogue with psychosis to create social bonding.

6 I am thankful to Clint Burnham, who in the Question and Answer period of this talk, asserted a criticism about the impossibility of functioning out of ideology, even in the psychoanalytical setting. He interjected Žižek’s reading of ideology that originally I had left out in the interest of reducing a complexity that I didn’t deem pertinent to the discussion and its timing. Burnham’s critical comment referred me to Žižek, which enriched the explanation of my thesis.

7 In Seminar XI, Lacan stated that “…the training analysis has no other purpose than to bring the analyst to the point I designated in my algebra as the analyst’s desire” (p 10).

8 Ichideal (Ego-Ideal): A parallel to the superego- the heir of the primary  narcissism (observation of self, moral consciousness, oneiric censorship, repression, guilt). Therefore, Ego ideal has more of a symbolic function. WhereasIdealich (Ideal-Ego) is the heir of the image of oneself created in the mirror stage and would be thus mostly imaginary.

9 Freud also tells us that prestige is a necessary attribution of the leader (The subject supposed to know of Lacan) and that what is demanded of the leader is that he loves each of the individuals of that crowd, as Jesus Christ or a good general would do it.

10 “Hey you”: Here come the rivals!

11 The drive “has no day or night, no spring or autumn, no rise and fall. It is a constant force” that is not of the order of the rhythmic biological functions (Seminar XI. p 165).

12 Lacan “The Signification of the Phallus” in Ecrits, p. 576.

13 Gödel, (1931) “Incompleteness Theorems.” Thanks to Neven Knezevic for his reflection on Gödel’s theorems a propos of the theme of this paper during the Question and Answer period.

14 From Greek. Sort of incorporation of two different dialects. Lingua franca.

15 Fantasy or fantasm opposes symptom and when traversed encounters sinthome (jouissance that has become pleasure). See Jacques-Alain Miller “The Axiom of the Fantasm.”