Dr. Bernardi has presented a carefully constructed and lucid discussion of the nature of argument within the psychoanalytic domain, specifically a series of meetings that took place between established proponents of Melanie Klein in the Rio de la Plata and a visiting analyst who had been a student of Jacques Lacan. 

The paper outlines a variety of approaches to constructive argument within the sciences, and correctly points out that psychoanalysis presents an unusual situation insofar as it does not entirely conform to the generally accepted norms of the natural sciences, but incorporates elements of the humanities as well.  This hybrid structure, Dr. Bernardi makes clear, complicates the process of defining clear principles for the conduct of debates within psychoanalysis.  The complications presented by the hybrid nature of psychoanalysis define elements of the debate that occurred between the followers of Klein and Lacan in the present example insofar as the Lacanian position, presented by Serge Leclaire, clearly reflected Lacan’s signature contention that the unconscious is structured like a language.  For Leclaire the words of the patient are the only valid concern of the analyst while the expression of emotion, the focus of the Kleinians, is taken to be a representation of confusion:

He (the patient) speaks, that is what we ask of him and it is sufficient to know that the words really are carriers of the drive-based tensions, to not have to appeal to that kind of sentimental ambiance. Feeling, by definition, is confusion. (p. 864)

I am highlighting this moment in Dr. Bernardi’s paper because I want to read it back to the introductory portion of the paper and argue that a set of questions placed in abeyance in the introduction cannot in fact be passed over in silence if controversy in psychoanalysis is to be fully understood.  What we have in Laclaire’s statement, and in the responses offered by the Kleinians, are not merely methodological or clinical propositions, but rather make quiet explicit but conflicting claims about the nature of the unconscious itself, a domain of controversy whose examination, if I read him correctly, Dr. Bernardi considers to be outside the procedural competence of the discipline (p. 853).  I highlight this issue because I believe it engages another issue that Dr. Bernardi notes in the introduction to his paper; the impact of Freud’s own authority on the very possibility of constructive controversy in psychoanalysis.

To set up my initial response to the question of how true controversies in psychoanalysis are constructed and how they take place, I will put forward a series of observations that reflect concerns about the question of the nature of the unconscious, and the role of Freud’s authority in the construction of psychoanalytic debates.  I will also make these observations fairly stark in order to put a frame around my point of view.

The guiding principle for how I look at controversy or debate within psychoanalysis is that the ur-controversy, i.e., the debate between Freud and C. G. Jung at the beginning of the psychoanalytic movement, remains the defining debate within the tradition. Put another way, I would suggest that more recent debates, such as the one that took place in the Rio de la Plata, actually reprise at least elements of that original controversy.  In this instance, it is the Kleinians who end up sounding suspiciously Jungian, while Laclaire, true to his Lacanian roots, actually is much closer to the original Freud.  Indeed, I will make the point below that Lacan, in some of his comments in Écrits, draws the most precise, and informative—albeit partisan—distinctions between Jung and Freud, distinctions that play themselves out in the subsequent development of psychoanalysis.  And the particular distinction he draws points directly at the question of how we are to understand the nature of the unconscious.

The Freud/Jung Debate

After the break between Freud and Jung, in addition to various ad hominum attacks on Jung from Freud’s followers, the most widely disseminated characterization of the reason Jung could not stay in the Freudian fold was that he could not accept the sexual theory of the libido.  This characterization, however, was usually couched in terms of the supposed reflexive rejection of Freud’s sexual theory of neurosis resulting from its radical departure from accepted social propriety.  As a number of historians of psychoanalysis have since made clear, the more widespread rejection of Freud’s theory was not the result of puritanical outrage, a position first proposed by Freud himself, and subsequently elaborated by his followers, but rather of a sense that his theory was excessively reductionistic.  This, in fact, had been Jung’s point of view from the beginning of their relationship, and understanding the problem of libido is in fact important for understanding the problem of debate in psychoanalysis.

For Jung, based on both his experience with psychotic patients in the Burghölzli hospital, and his experimental research on the word association test, it simply was not possible to subsume all psychopathology, or even relatively accessible neuroses and psychological disturbances, such as parapraxis, within the sexual model.  Over time, this point of view resulted in Jung essentially reversing the interpretation of the nature of libido such that rather than being a sexual determinant that was invested (Besetzung) in objects, essentially turning them into surrogates for sexual drives, it became a more general motivator that invested objects with energy that prompted their actualization or successful functioning in the world.  From this point of view, as Jung continually insisted for the rest of his life, it was clear that sexuality was one of the central issues in human experience, particularly in the first half of life, but it was not the only formative issue that was invested with psychic energy.

To tie this back to the passage from Dr. Bernardi’s paper, cited above, I would suggest that precisely this distinction is lurking beneath the debate between the Kleinians and the Lacanians.  For Jung, as he again said repeatedly, the initial moment in the treatment of depth psychological disorders was to follow the movement of the affects.  This point of view had been established for Jung in the work on the word association test, which had given rise to his theory of the feeling toned complex as the central element in the neurosis.  Klein, of course, still retains a limited sense of what the major drives are, and how the emotional patterns of analysis are to be understood, but it is clear that for Laclaire the mere fact of affective attention is a recognition of the confusion affect introduces into the more singular attention to the drives, presented in the word or language.  Moving beyond Klein and Lacan, I believe we can see the outlines of Jung’s formulations regarding libido, or psychic energy, in the work of the object relations school, Kohut’s self-psychology, and more recent developments in the application of infant research to analytic practice, such as one finds in the Boston Process of Change Study Group.  As our discussion develops, I will likely enlarge on this argument.

The question of the nature of libido, or psychic energy, therefore, is first of all a question about the forces at work within the unconscious, and therefore raises the question of how to debate the nature of a contested domain that is by definition only accessible by way of phenomena that are not themselves part of that domain.  In other words, as Jung remarked in an interview given late in life, the unconscious is , above all, unconscious—i.e., not directly accessible to consciousness.  I take it that this is the reason Dr. Bernardi suggests that the nature of the unconscious is beyond the competence of a general theory of argumentation.  But there are serious consequences that derive from leaving this question on the table.  In my own earliest work on the conflict between Jung and Freud (Hogenson, 1983) I identified several of these consequences, and, to perhaps put a somewhat sharper point on the matter, I characterized both Freud and Jung as cosmogonists, i.e., as creators of worlds, or at least world-views.  In order to move the discussion along, then, let me outline some of these distinctions, all of which have to do with the problem of understanding the nature of the unconscious.

The first question involves the status of the contents of the unconscious, and how those contents are established.  For Freud the contents of the unconscious exist due to the workings of repression.  With the exception of the remnants of his frequently overlooked notion of primal repression (Urverdrängung), the unconscious is only populated with the repressed desires that were first of all in consciousness.  For Jung, on the other hand, while there are no doubt repressed impulses in the unconscious, there are also unconscious materials that exist in their own right, and have not previously been in consciousness—some may not even be capable of becoming conscious.  The unconscious domain within which these elements exist is referred to by Jung as the collective unconscious, a notion for which many Freudians have criticized him as proposing a mystical or Platonic world-view.  This point can be discussed in greater detail, but it is worth noting that the primal remnants of Freud’s primal repression bear a rather close relationship to much of what Jung says about the collective unconscious.  Be that as it may, this distinction between the contents of the unconscious, and the source or mechanism by which they become the contents of the unconscious, when linked to the question of libido or psychic energy, result in the next distinction to be drawn.

The second area I want to highlight involves the status of the symbol.  Jung insisted that there was a fundamental distinction to be drawn between his understanding of the symbol, and Freud’s, which Jung characterized, as a semiotic model. As we will see, this distinction again plays itself out in the relationship of the Lacanian commentary on other schools of psychoanalysis.  Jung’s distinction in his initial formulation, however, again has to do with Freud’s reductionistic approach to the psyche, in that for Freud, as Jung views his theory, what Freud calls a symbol is in fact a referential sign—what I have more recently characterized as a move to the indexical, drawing on the work of Charles Sanders Peirce.  What this means is that for Freud, the symbol, even when over determined, essentially refers back to an infantile drive that has not been discharged.  For Jung, on the other hand, the symbol is, to use his expression, “is the best possible description or formulation of a relatively unknown fact” (Jung, 1971)CW 6:814).  (References to Jung’s Collected Works indicate volume number and paragraph number.)  What this means in practice is that the symbolic dimension of the psyche is not retrospectively referential, but prospectively “teleological,” i.e, seeking to move toward some state that has not yet manifested itself.  Ironically, in my reading of Jung, this places him far closer to the developmentally oriented psychoanalysts, such as, again, the object relations, self-psychology or infant observation groups.  The other aspect of Jung’s understanding of the symbol is that symbols, insofar as they are referential, refer to other elements within a symbolic system.  The idea of a symbolic associative network is very important, because it informs Jung’s position on the nature of the dream image, and the centrality of the image over against Freud’s emphasis on language and the word—once again, precisely the area that defines the Lacanian objection to the Kleinian position in the Rio de la Plata debate.  How is this the case?

Once the nature of libido has been conceptualized as a more general form of psychic energy that is capable of investing the symbolic, and using the symbol as a vehicle of adaptive transformation, rather than as a marker for repressed drives, the notion that the dream image is a means of evading the censorship drops out.  What we then have is a situation where, for example, the manifest dream image is no longer viewed as an encrypted or deceptive construct, but rather as a form of communication on the part of the unconscious that enjoys its own integrity.  Rather than an analogy to encryption for understanding the dream image, Jung’s analogy is closer to learning a foreign language.  The dream image, in other words, is communicating without distortion, but its meaning requires translation, not decoding.  Freud’s decoding analogy caries with it the implication that the dream image is constructed in the dream work to move from a linguistic representation of a drive to a symbolic representation—semiotic in Jung’s critique of Freud—and in consequence, the task of the analyst is to return the symbolic image to it original linguistic form—to bring the image to language.  For Jung, on the other hand, the image is allowed to enjoy its own autonomy.

Methodologically, Freud’s understanding of the inner workings of the unconscious leads to the process of free association.  Jung, on the other hand, argues that free association tends to remain in an orbit around the complex.  Rather than use free association, Jung developed, after the break with Freud, and in the course of his work on the Red Book, a method that he called active imagination.  Keeping in mind for a moment the position of the Kleinians in the Rio de la Plata debate, Jung outlines his method of active imagination as a stepwise process that begins with the identification of an emotional state, followed by an effort to find the image that is actually inherent in the emotion.  By following the path of the affect into the symbol or image, the unconscious is allowed to reveal its “point of view” on the total situation of the individual.  It is this enlargement of the horizon of the psyche that is critical to the process of individuation.

There are important issues to be raised around the dynamics of the unconscious, in particular in relation to repression and projection.  I will no doubt outline these issues in subsequent comments, but it is at this point that I want to bring this first outline to a conclusion by returning to Lacan for a moment.  Having outlined some of the critical elements in Jung’s system, and the ways in which I see them in distinction to the work of Freud, I want to leave the discussion with a passage from Lacan’s Écrits.  In a manner that I can best describe as sounding as though he had been looking over Jung’s shoulder while Jung prepared the Red Book, we find Lacan making the following argument:

It is of the utmost importance to observe—in the experience of the unconscious Other where Freud is our guide—that the question does not find its outlines in protomorphic proliferations of the image, in vegetative intumescences, or in animastic halos radiating from the palpitations of life.

This is the whole difference between Freud’s orientation and that of Jung’s school, which latches onto such forms: Wandlungen der libido. These forms may be brought to the fore in a mantic, for they can be produced using the proper techniques (promoting imaginary creations such as reveries, drawings, etc.) in a situable [sic] site. This site can be seen . . . in the veil of the narcissistic mirage, which is eminently suited to sustaining whatever is reflected in it through its effect of seduction and capture.

If Freud rejected this mantic, it was at the point at which it neglects the guiding function of a signifying articulation, which operates on the basis of its internal law and of material subjected to the poverty that is essential to it.

Similarly, it is precisely to the extent that this style of articulation has been maintained, by virtue of the Freudian Word [verba], . . . that such a profound difference persists between the two schools . . . . (Lacan, 2006) (page 460)


It is important to note how critical Freud’s interpretation of the unconscious is to Lacan’s position, and it is on this note of the centrality of Freud’s authority to the entire debate regarding the nature of psychoanalysis that I will conclude for this comment.  I will, nevertheless, likely have more to say about this passage as our conversation progresses.

Hogenson, George B. (1983). Jung's struggle with Freud. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

Jung, C. G. (1971). Psychological Types (Vol. 6). Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Lacan, Jacques. (2006). Ecrits: The first complete English translation (B. Fink, Trans.). New York: W. W. Norton.