Subjective Experience and the Logic of the Other (Book Review)
Author: Lander, Romulo
Publisher: Other Press
Reviewed By: Lina Schlacter, Vol. XXVIII, No. 2 (Spring 2008), pp. 37-39
Writing about Lacan is not an easy task. Lacan often wrote or gave his seminars in an enigmatic and metaphorical form, and very frequently left the impression that he was right: expressing exactly what we want using language is impossible. Lander tries to demystify that, and translate, or even interpret, whatever Lacan wanted to teach to the psychoanalytic community. For that, first he explains basic concepts, such as desire, signifier, the three orders, and others. Then, he describes how different diagnoses are understood by Lacanian theory. Finally, he finishes his book clarifying how the Lacanian analysis works. Further, throughout his book, Lander very frequently talks about the Freudian background of the theory, which is very salutary because Lacan defined himself as a Freudian.
His book starts with the description of one of the most, if not the most, crucial concepts in Lacan: desire. Desire, in Lacan, is the desire of the Other: we desire because we are not complete, and cannot fulfill what the Other wants from us. So, the Lacanian subject will be always asking this fundamental question: “what do you want from me?” In that, our desire is related to lack, to what we don’t have, or to what we don’t know.
In the other initial chapters, Lander explains the logic of other important concepts in Lacanian theory, which are also related to desire. Hence, Lander starts with the broader concept, and only afterward explains its particularities. Due to the organization of the book, Lander sometimes uses concepts throughout the first chapters not explained until later in the book. Therefore, the reader may be left with questions such as “What is the Other? What about this object (a)? And jouissance?” The elucidation of most concepts is found only in subsequent chapters.
One of the concepts that Lander explains is the “object” in the Lacanian theory. Here, he superficially discusses Klein’s and Winnicott’s concept of the object, while describing Freud’s and Lacan’s conception in more detail. Lacan named his object the object (a). First, Lacan understood the (a) as related to the small other (l’autre), in that l’autre would seem to have something that made it the object of desire. Then, (a) became what causes desire in that it symbolizes a lack, and is also the lack itself. In this chapter, Lander’s main contribution is a chart that he created about the lack of the object. The chart is extremely didactic and clarifies how the lack of the object is presented (privation, frustration and castration) in each register (symbolic, real, and imaginary), and in which form (nature, object, and agent of the lack).
The logic of the symptom is another important aspect in the Lacanian theory. Lander emphasizes that there are two types of symptoms: 1) the clinical symptom, in which there is a demand for help addressed to the Other, and 2) the analytic symptom, in which there is not an appeal to the Other, and has a component of jouissance. Hence, for example, the patient starts the treatment asking for a cure for depression, and believes that the analyst is supposed to know how to make him get better. The symptom, here, is seen as a foreign body that he does not control. As the analysis progresses, the patient realizes that he is in charge of his symptom, and that there is a desire involved in his suffering. The goal would be to have him recognizing that he is a subject of desire. Therefore, in psychoanalysis, distinct from other orientations, the objective is to understand the role of the unconscious in people’s lives. There is a search for the inner truth, as people must become able to act according to their desires. In that, a symptom is never just a symptom that we need to “get rid of.”
People, however, are psychically structured differently. Therefore, there are hysterics, obsessives, perverts, psychotics, and also other structures. In the second part of the book, Lander describes the logic of a variety of diagnoses. Here, he offers clinical examples (which he has not done so far), and also tries to understand in a Lacanian perspective diagnoses that Lacan did not explain, such as the borderline personality disorder.
Due to a lack of a Lacanian understanding, at times Lander appeals for an object relations comprehension of some diagnoses; however, he does not always clarify when he is making that transition, which may be problematic for readers that may think, for example, that Lacan worked with “introjected objects.” In fact, Lacan would prefer to talk about signifiers rather than introjected objects. Further, this concept is irreconcilable with the Lacanian theory, and Lander should have pointed that out.
Lander offers good metaphors when explaining the logic of the hysterics, which are understood as “a slave that looks for a Master upon whom to reign” (“they want to be desired and wanted by this phallic Other, bearer of the semblance”), and also when describing the obsessives, which are seen as “a king who cannot cease to be a slave” (they want to become everything to the Other and close the field of lack). Surprisingly, when describing both structures, Lander does not mention their fundamental questions. In hysteria, we would have “Am I a man or a woman?” or, more precisely, “What is a woman?” In the obsessive, we would have “Am I dead or alive?”
To explain depression, Lander talks about the jouissance, about a hate toward the introjected object, and others. A deeper Lacanian perspective on this problematic is missed, or even more hypotheses of how Lacan may have thought about depression. Depression, for Lacan, is connected to the moment when the subject does not desire. When the subject feels that way, Eros withdraws and the subject just wants to die. However, Lacan understood that this douleur d’exister did not happen in the same way in all subjects, which means that the analyst would need to comprehend it according to the different psychoanalytic structures (neurosis, psychosis, and perversion).
Lander seems to have deviated from the Lacanian perspective when talking about the suicidal act. First, he proposes which types of suicidal acts are wrong and right. How can we define that? Lander gives example of right, or justifiable, suicidal acts, such as incurable chronic illness, physical disability due to simple aging, chronic mental disability, and others. Suicide for these reasons, however, may also be a passage to the act as the subject may be overly identified with the lack, or the flaw, for example. Instead of stating that suicide is justifiable in those stances, he might said that any suicide that is properly symbolized, and elaborated upon, is a “right” suicide.
Offering a “what to do list” of how to behave if subjects are at risk of committing suicide is also odd from a Lacanian perspective. His list has items that must be obvious for any therapist that follows a psychoanalytic orientation (e.g., enter the conflict area; explore the origin and the apparent reasons for these suicidal ideas; specify the subjective experience of failure, etc.). Therapists do, or at least must try to do, what he instructs not only when facing a suicidal patient but any type of patient. Lander then offers a list of what to do in the face of an imminent suicidal act. This list, again, is a list that any mental health professional must follow (e.g., eliminate the means to commit suicide; do not leave the suicidal subjects alone, etc.). The only point, here, of discussion is when Lander states that “to accomplish these goals one must not prescribe any medication.” Generalizing this situation in mental health is difficult, and risky. The type of environment where the patient is, as well as his mental state, must be considered in that condition.
The discussion about the borderline state is curious, because Lander tries to understand this phenomenon using different perspectives. Here, Lander again blends what seems impossible: Lacanian theory and object relations. Lander hypothesizes that borderlines have a hole on the imaginary area, and work under the discourse of domination. The discourse of domination, which claims that the word of the other works as law, was not a concept developed by Lacan, and perhaps Lander borrows this concept from the social sciences. That is not clear. In addition, Lander also believes that borderline patients experience a “reversal of perspective” in a dramatic form. This is a concept developed by Wilfred Bion, and is related to the fact that what we see depends on our point of view. For this reason, borderlines may suddenly transform the idealized person into an evil person. Therefore, this chapter may help our understanding of the borderline disorder; but he presents different, and sometimes divergent, psychoanalytic ideas without noting this or reconciling these ideas in a consistent framework.
The logic of perversion is explained mainly according to Freud and Lacan. Here, Lander talks about disavowal (Verleugnung) and the phallus. In this chapter, his last comment is that it is impossible “for women (organized as feminine) to be subjects of perversion.” The logic of the phallus and of castration is relentless. The feminine woman does not become perverse—her sexual structure does not allow it—is debatable. Here, Lander introduces the discussion of what feminine and masculine are. However, he does not explore these definitions deeply. Lacan preferred to use “phallus” instead of “penis” because he wanted to make use of a metaphor that indicated the male organ in the fantasy; in that men have a penis but this does not mean that they also have a phallus. So, phallus is related to the lack for males and females, and both sexes must renounce the aspiration to be the phallus of the mother to become a subject. Hence, man can be in the feminine side, and women are also free to be in the masculine side—the sexuality of the subject is not always related to the biological sex. Consequently, what is the difference between a feminine woman and a feminine man?
In the third part of this book, Lander speaks of important aspect of Lacanian practice. First, he talks about transference. He suggests that there is a love or hate transference, and that the transference is understood by Lacan as 1) symbolic, in that it is related to the repetition compulsion, and hence reveals important aspects of the patient’s history, and 2) as imaginary, because it is manifested through strong affects, such as love and hate. Further, Lander emphasizes the importance of the analyst be seen as the “subject supposed to know,” which indicates that the analyst is seen as having a knowledge that the patient does not have. However, the analyst must not believe that the knowledge is in him, because this will elicit him to make interpretations from the imaginary and not from the symbolic register, as it is expected. Therefore, the analyst must be located in the locus of the symbolic Other, and speak from the position of the lack of knowledge, which will produce a subjective division. When the subject becomes aware of his, and also of his analyst’s incompleteness, the analyst will stop being idealized, and will become a waste. That is the analytic cure according to Lacan.
Lander also talks about the logic of the negative transference. Here, he describes a case of a woman whom he saw for over a year. This woman felt at times as if he were dominating her, and was reluctant to continue with her analysis. Lander shows how he managed her negative transference, and also how he attempted to have an “absent presence” in the room as an analyst. In this chapter, he also discusses about the problem of bisexuality, because his patient fell in love with people of both sexes. He believes that there is an unconscious bisexual structure, in addition to a heterosexual and a homosexual unconscious structure. Surprisingly, Lander does not explore the side (active or passive) where the subject is in those relationships. This discussion is fundamental to the understanding of the sexual choice in Lacan. The phallus, according to Lacan, emerges on active side, and the hole on the passive side.
To finalize his discussion about transference, Lander offers a transference graph in which the transferential phenomenon is explained. according to the logic of both the analysand and analyst, in four different levels: imaginary, symbolic, at an articulation of the three registers (when the analyst is seen as a waste), and at a level beyond the transference (when the post-analytic effects happen). This graph is extremely easy to follow, and demonstrates how the transferences occur in each time of the analysis.
To conclude his book, Lander talks about supervision, and here he offers excellent clinical vignettes. Lander discusses about what a good supervision is: Should the supervision be deep, and help the students recognize their own unresolved issues? Should the unresolved issues be talked about only in the personal analysis? Should the students be in personal analysis at the same time that they are doing clinical work? These are questions, however, that remain unanswered. Analysts have discussed these for years, and no final answer has been agreed upon. Lacan suggested that people can become an analyst only after being in clinical supervision, having been in analysis, and participating in official seminars. Most importantly, people need to be recognized as analysts to become an analyst.
In conclusion, Subjective Experience and the Logic of the Other is a good book for beginners. He offers an overview of the Lacanian theory, and for this reason one must not expect to find deep and critical discussions about problematic issues in Lacanian theory. It is a book, however, that may make more advanced Lacanian readers somewhat frustrated, and more aware of the incompleteness in his discussion. On the other hand, Lander also may make beginners less resistant to the Lacanian theory, as he digests the main Lacanian concepts and techniques, and makes this theory—one that just few try to explore in United States—accessible.
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