COMMENTS ON DR BERNARDI’S PAPER

Bernard Burgoyne

[A]

 Dr Bernardi’s paper opens up a range of important questions that are central to the fundamental concerns of psychoanalysis. The relation between concepts and technique is perhaps the most crucial of these questions, and it is probably true to say that it remains a question that is still largely unresolved: Dr Bernardi’s paper constructs avenues that help to address and resolve such questions.

 

 I will try to describe a number of issues that Dr Bernardi’s presentation raises for me; I will take it that the reader has the presentation to hand. First, I agree entirely with the initial thesis that he puts forward: “controversies are part of the process of scientific knowing”. That he immediately moves on to raising the question of obstacles to such controversies, brings memories of the question that Freud set to the Berlin Congress of the IPA in 1922 – in what way does psychoanalytic theory relate to psychoanalytic technique, and in particular in what ways is each an obstacle to the other? Defensive strategies have been more explored by psychoanalysts, while theory of argumentation more by rhetoricians and philosophers. Whether what are the “best arguments” can be decided by either the one or the other we will have to see. “Keeping premises safe” however is something that I would like to argue against: Dr Bernardi seems very much in agreement with this objection – it may be that exposing premises to high degrees of a lack of safety is part of good science. But whether science or scientific method have much to do with good psychoanalysis is something that we will hopefully discover as a result of the Conference.

 

               The analysis of problems – of the nature of these problems and of their proposed solutions – is set forward as an aim of RB’s proposals. I can call this perhaps aim A. However, Dr Bernardi adds a second aim to it – one that he seems to think necessarily augments the first: that of finding the passions that “inflect the choice of theory”. If I call this aim B, then I disagree that B is an aim that it is in any way necessary or even advisable to pursue, and this for two reasons: first, it represents a shift from addressing problems to addressing theories, and this shift is precisely one of the moves that cause a drift away from science in the psychoanalytic field; and secondly, I think that the analysis of problems (rather than the analysis of theories) can be done quite independently of this question of passionate attachment, or conflict in the unconscious. If I perhaps introduce a – triple – distinction, what I am attempting to say may become clearer. One could call “scientific dogmatism” the insistence on addressing the problems chosen, while readdressing the solutions and attendant theories that had been proposed fin the past for their articulation; and one could call “unscientific dogmatism” the insistence on holding onto theories, come what may. The question then arises: are scientists ever guilty of unscientific dogmatism? The answer is clearly yes, but if they are also committed to a scientific dogmatism – what can be called scientific tenacity – than a field of science can progress. So even if the ideas that were in conflict in the Controversial Discussions were “limited … within the local tradition”, this does not preclude the scientific tenacity present in many of the contributions made there from advancing the state of psychoanalysis.

 

                  There are so many points of agreement that I have with the position developed by Dr Bernardi that I will mention for the moment merely the points that I do not agree with. The notion of “the correct interpretation” presupposes that there is only one such; the “support” that knowledge gains within standardized procedures is not always to the benefit of the advance of knowledge; decisions regarding truth – on a sufficiently high level of generality – are never answered conclusively, so that this lack of conclusiveness is present not only within the domain of psychoanalysis; “unconscious meaning” is a difficult concept – and “’the’ unconscious meaning” even more difficult; “regimes for truth” is a very vague concept – even given the assumption that such regimes are different in the two (supposedly different) fields of humanities and science. Finally, before commenting further, I should like to add the (previously promised) third part of the distinction that I made earlier. Where is the place for honest skepticism? I would like to propose that psychoanalysis can allow itself to be guided by the methods of the sciences (as Freud assumed) if the scientific attitude is taken to be a combination of tenacity and honest skepticism. This combination can also be sought for in poets. 

 

               Poets, scientists, creative writers, artists: these themes often within psychoanalysis bear on a supposed difference of discourse between the analyst and the analysand. Such a difference clearly exists, and is even insisted on by the various protocols for the analytical relationship. But this is not something that in itself makes psychoanalysis impervious to consequentiality and to the articulation of presuppositions – quite the opposite. Certainly, in terms of the relation between what the analysand says, and what the analyst says, there are questions of tact, of timing, of phrasing, of distancing, of positioning. But none of this bears at all on the question of the nature of presupposition, of articulation of presupposition, even of the overthrowing of presupposition, in controversies involving concepts that are vehicled by theories in psychoanalysis. 

 

               Logic, or a certain commitment to consequentiality, provides the “minimum shared criteria” for a description – even a controversial description –of the analyst’s work; without this the analyst is barely thinking. It is a notorious aspect of the analytical situation that in it, the analyst is not supposed to be thinking; this does not preclude him/her from thinking outside this situation – in supervision, in seminars, in writing papers, in giving lectures; neither does it preclude outstanding analysts – such as Bion – from devising criteria for thinking that are in large measure precisely derived from problems of the analytical situation. 

 

                                                                   [B]

 

                  I apologise again, at the start, for not focusing here on shared agreements, but space in these first contributions is short. “Love of truth” can surely only lead to error: love – however enriching – is structured around necessary illusions: in this case, around the essentially painful and unwelcome nature of what is true. “Governing by law” is not quite what fuels intellectual curiosity; and such intellectual searching is certainly not ruled by a “common law”: there is a disquiet present in the psychoanalytical search that any such law perceives as aberrant – the search for the nature of scientific law, the search for the nature of moral law, the search for the nature of the law of the unconscious all share this aspect of going beyond the domain of settled agreement. This is one reason is why these searches are already – willy nilly – committed to controversy.

 

               The shifting standards of proof, and the shifting conceptualizations of a body of knowledge (or science) may be well described by Toulmin: his theory of “logical ambits” is not a consequence of such descriptions. Sandler’s problem that “lack of communication, or pseudo-communication ‘may’ arise” is also adrift of the main issue – a theorist need only be able to point out to another theorist some of what follows from what he holds in order for a [fruitful] controversy to come into being. [Freud certainly was somewhat reluctant at times to movie in this direction, preferring to talk of ‘resistance’ to his ideas; but this is a very minor aspect of his scientific position – generally he was eager to engage in debate about the pertinence of scientific method to the problem-situation of a psychoanalyst: see for instance his lengthy debate with James Putnam, a part of which is presented in his New Introductory Lectures – Lecture XXXV].

 

               Rhetoric has had a very bad press (undeservedly); a paper on Perelman’s work was appended – at François Regnault’s suggestion – to the closing pages of Lacan’s Ecrits; the “Dutch School” has produced important results in the fields of rhetoric and logic. There is much to investigate here. But too much cross-comparison of theories can lead away from the central concern: an analysand is concerned with consequentiality – with the consequences of the past that are felt in the present, with what follows from their psycho-sexual opinions [in the form of day-dreams and fantasies], and with what it means to come to a conclusion. So I am not suggesting that investigating these theories of logic and discourse have any place in psychoanalysis other than to illuminate some of these concrete concerns, to ameliorate some form of suffering that has been too great.

 

                  I will not say anything about “true psychoanalysis”: what I have already said about “love of the truth” will indicate how I feel about it. Neither will I say anything here about Kuhn’s attempted transformation of the body of science into a sociological convention. “Angels are becoming rumours” they used to teach sociologists; science is becoming normal in the same way. Incommensurability however is a theme beloved of Paul Feyerabend – the discussions between these two philosophers of science gave some of the shape to Kuhn’s later formulations; sadly we do not have access to their content – unlike the rich and powerful exchanges between Feyerabend and Lakatos, which are still in print. Incommensurables were discovered by the ancient Greeks: the point about them is that they can be proved to exist, and such proofs rather than curtailing science, enrich it. If incommensurables exist at all in any scientific debate, they are of the same form as these revolutions in Greek thinking.

 

               Models are not at issue here, but only problems and their relations to theories. I do not take any of the three “models” mentioned – ‘classical’ scientific; Kuhnian; hermeneutic – to be merely models: indeed a model presupposes at least three theories – a theory of the structures within the model, a theory of the structures present in what it models, and a theory of the relation between these two structures. None of the above three programmes intend to do this; but the model of the San Francisco bay sea-bed which is on display in Sausalito does all three.

 

           The theory of interpretation needs extensive commentary – of the kind carried out for theories of transference by Danial Lagache in 1951 – before investigations of this-or-that-type of interpretation can be carried out. Despite this, the case study of Lacanian – Kleinian interactions is fascinating, extremely fruitful, and demands a booklet of commentary in itself.

 

               “Analogies”, “metaphors”, “models”: I think that these terms are as of little use in describing most psychoanalytical theories as they would be in describing most theories of dynamics: particularly when what the theories are constructing are not metaphors, and not analogies.

 

               What are proposed as “types of scientific reason” are neither too numerous, not too disparate to bring into some critical relation to each other. Separating out “philosophy” from “psychoanalytic practice’ is not a prerequisite for gaining some critical insight into the virtues and vices of any given clinical proposal.  So although I am a pessimist in most of these matters, I think that RB overestimates the levels of difficulty involved in creating conditions for critical dialogue. If this were an easy thing Socrates would have been applauded by his fellow citizens – but many things are difficult in the field of science, and still the enterprise moves forward.   Of course one central issue is whether or not psychoanalysis as able to constitute itself as a science – even whether, if this were possible, it would be desirable. Freud’s view was clearly presented in the paper that I mentioned – psychoanalysis is guided, he claims, by “the methods of the sciences”. “The desire and hope of finding something new” animates all scientific work – and all serious thinking. The themes presented by Dr Bernardi can only augment a movement in this direction, and on the side of the people in analysis, much suffering is still waiting to be addressed by the consequential reworking of the field of psychoanalysis. 

 

Add comment


Security code
Refresh