Toward a Psychoanalytic Theory of the Subject
2.The Background of Psychoanalytic Thinking
As expected, most psychoanalysts considered the effort to locate psychoanalysis within the Western Culture waist of time, and irrelevant to their work. In fact, this belief is embedded in another more significantly misleading: psychoanalysis is an applied technique of psychotherapy that has ‘sort’ of a theory of psychopathology, and likely has some useful input for other areas of the humanities. Thus, all one only needs to learn its theory of psychopathology and the technicalities of practicing it as psychotherapy. Consequently, psychoanalysis wold look at as an entity in its own right, and could (should) be learned in specialized institutes, and the graduates form closed communities of people of a kind. At best, those communities open their doors very narrowly to allow a little knowledge to seep out, but always protect psychoanalysis from being contaminated by foreign -none analytic- ideas or ideologies. The result of this common belief -as we all acknowledge by now- is a steady deterioration of psychoanalysis itself, declination of its status that was once of a highly-admired enterprise, and an obvious drop of interest in its restoration. Although psychoanalysis is not suffering from this progressive condition equally in every part of the world, there is no denying, though, that it is happening universally creating a global crisis.
The general trend in contemporary psychoanalysis is to keep correcting or improving its current bad condition, and ignore the call for making the necessary changes that address the causes of the crisis. Albeit that all attempts at correcting psychoanalysis have failed, there is vehement reluctance to even look at our resistance to change. I believe this reluctance comes from four sources that when actualized in unison they become irrational objections to change. They are: 1.change is an implicit admission that psychoanalysis is not perfect as we keep claiming, 2.unlike all other epistemologies it does not need revision from time to time, 3.we do not know what changes to be introduced and how to to do them, 4. and what will psychoanalysis be like if we change it? I am not underling the fear of the major disagreement amongst us if we decided to make changes to what we hardly already agree on now. Those four issues are a result of psychoanalysis being treated by us as an epistemology without any roots or links with anything that came before or came after.
The simple and direct reason to locate psychoanalysis within its western culture’s framework is to reveal that it is essentially linked with other active elements of that culture, therefore it should be been evolving and progressing with those elements. I firmly believe that those links would show that psychoanalysis is still as important as it has always been to the culture as whole, not only to its practitioners. Accepting this point of view puts the practicing psychoanalyst in a bind: deny its links it has with the rest of the culture, thus let it die while the culture keeps renewing itself, or widen his knowledge to include in his learning none-clinical literature keep it developing it with the rest of the culture. Up till now, learning what is not clinical has not been of significance in analytic training, and there is no conscious concern about how our future will look like, as an isolated epistemology. Moreover, instead of seeing Freud as major link in a significant chain of thinkers, he idealized as an isolated lonely genius who does not belong to anything or anywhere in the past or in his time. He is deprived of his status as a main contributor to a major culture.
I want to frame this idea as a central question in my attempt at approaching the theory of the human “subject”: Is Freud a link in a chain of interlinked thinkers and philosophers, or a link without a chain or any other attachment that could locate his place in his culture?
My immediate answer right away is that Freud is an important link in a chain of great thinkers who led him to where to started contributing to his culture. His link connects psychoanalysis to other links, despite analysts’ admitting that hesitantly or giving it a lip service. Freud’s link has been and is open for many other chains of idiographic sciences. Those chains should be recognized in order to connect psychoanalysis to its culture and give it a serious push toward a theory of the human subject, which is the only possible and real future for it.
A prelude to psychoanalysis:
Western culture started with its subject being alive but not really extant; an object and agent of knowledge but not emoted or humanly definable. The reason was an underdeveloped sense of separation from his physical world (social infantilism). With the evolution of the subject the he acquired a sense of being outside the world around him; the subject of the Cogito. Ultimately, the culture advanced to form the principal question a culture of its nature and calibre had to pose and puzzle about: what about the subject's sense of existence and his awareness of “being within a culture, yet not part of it”'? What does it mean that the subject has an existence? When we look back at the Cartesian Cogito we realize that the first step taken to acknowledging the subject’s existence was by underlining his duality (a thinker and the thinker of thinking). This might sound, today a frivolous question because we are so familiar with the manifestations of the subject to wonder about his existence. Nonetheless, the question would mean something if acknowledge that the subject was the creator of his knowledge, and also able to realize that he was the precipitator of his ignorance, because his ignorance became a key to unlock that secret. Positing the problem that way confronted the thinkers and the philosophers with a puzzling subject: he was more than the object of the scholastic philosophy of the pre-Descartes times; he was both an item of nature and a transcendental awareness of nature itself, that is, his knowledge of it. The subject had an “exteriority” that turned him into an object of empirical presence, but his transcendence of his empirical existence pointed to a stubborn “interiority” that always transcended his empiricism.
The subject’s duality changed from “I think, therefore I am” to “I am, even when I am not thinking.” Foucault (1970), in response to this shift in the concept of the subject, said, “The cogito will not therefore be the sudden and illuminating discovery that all thought is thought, but the constantly renewed interrogation as to how thought can reside elsewhere than here, and yet so very close to itself: how it can be in the form of non-thinking” (p. 324). As we will see later, the problem was not the separateness of two modes of the subject’s existence expressed in a duality, but rather finding the solution that would sustain the subject’s duality in spite of his duality that could make him stranger to himself. The question was where is the link between the poles of this dual existence? The reason for not coming up with the an answer- from the beginning- was that scholastic philosophy, which dominated the emerging western culture from the twelfth century to the seventeenth century was not interested in the human subject as such, but in his mind and empirical existence (a trend that some analysts keep alive by striving to turn psychical events into empirical facts). Scholastic philosophy was overwhelmed by the richness of the empirical subject that was then-for the first time – a participant in solving his empirical existence.
After an admirable effort by the scholastic thinker to account for the subject’s empirical attributes, philosophers, and German philanderers in particular, turned around to look at the interiority of the subject. A brief account of the efforts of the thinkers and philosophers in revealing the human subject is a very valuable step-by-step guide to the final discovery of the duality of the conscious\unconscious, which was Freud’s lot in life to explicate and work on to give us psychoanalysis. Without reviewing that effort, it would be impossible to understand, and appreciate Freud's half-century of efforts to discover the unconscious. Without reviewing the philosophical background of psychoanalysis, it will look as if Freud has stumbled over psychoanalysis and its birth was just a stroke of luck. The most important and clear issue in that account is that those philosophers discovered most of the features of Freud’s unconscious and even called them unconscious but stopped one step before discovering it as we know it now and it was Freud’s work that took it over that stumbling step.
After Descartes’ initial stab at the barrier between scholastic philosophy and the exploration of the subject’s interiority, philosophers began a great trek toward the core of the subject’s duality. Spinoza’s (1632–1677) thinking was inﬂuenced by the Cartesian diﬃculty in regard to the issue of causality, which resulted from the separating the predicate of existence from its attributives in the Cogito. Thus, Spinoza founded his philosophy on the single and only substance that has the basis and the multiplicity of attributes that constitute the reality in which we live (nature or God). His monotheism had one system that underlay the reality of everything but still had two attributes: thought and extension [material and not-material]. In that sense, the subject was both mind and body but in unison. Damasio (2003) put it this way: “The reference to a single substance [in Spinoza] serves the purpose of claiming mind as inseparable from body. Both created, somehow, from the same cloth. The reference to two attributes, mind and body, acknowledged another duality the distinction of two kinds of phenomena, a formulation that preserves an entirely sensible ‘aspect’ dualism, but rejects substance dualism” (p. 209). Spinoza had the notion that the mind contained the capacity to perceive facts but could also perceive its perception (apperception) or become conscious of its own capacity; a more elaborate way of putting the cogito in a different mode of duality of the subject. He speciﬁed a third duality based on the previous one: cause and reason. Perception dealt with the world and led to uncovering its causes, while apperception dealt with the reason of things (its grammar!). This dualism reﬂected a fourth duality: even though brain and mind were inseparable, they were two distinct entities, physical and psychological. In spite of Spinoza’s monotheism, he resorted to the notion of attributes to account for the perceptible dual nature of the subject. Spinoza, in spite of his basic premise was insightful of the impossibility of dealing with any subjective attribute without having its double in perspective.
Leibniz (1646–1716) developed a theory of a world composed of units, self-contained centres of force of which everything is formed. He called those units “Monads.” Each Monad was perceptive and desiring, and the subject was constituted of those dualities. In those dualities, perception was geared toward facts and was distinguished from apperception, or the awareness of perception and the reasoning of the perceived. Therefore, the truth of a fact referred to the principle of suﬃcient reason (nothing takes place without a reason). This principle was a passive quality of the mind and just mirrored the factual world around it. Truth of reason, on the other hand, referred to the principle of identity, which stipulated that a thing could not also be its opposite. This principle was innate and an active attribute of the mind (apperception). Leibniz’s conception of the dynamics of perception and apperception put the duality of the subject in a context of polarities that are qualitatively disconnected but connected hierarchically (quantitatively). Monads were organized in a hierarchy in which the Monad of the soul, for instance, was above that of the body and exerted control over it. His theory led to a concept of unconsciousness that was closer to the desiring aspect of the Monads, which did not abide by reason. The unconscious in that deﬁnition could return in other states of consciousness, like in the form of dreams, for instance. Leibniz’s philosophy, though monotheistic in form, was dualistic in substance.
Kant (1724–1804), as he himself stated, was the Copernicus of philosophy. He shifted the duality of the subject’s world into a duality in the subject’s mind. In other words, he did not accept that the world imposed on the subject a dual approach to perceiving it; rather, he believed that the subject’s mind was capable of only a two-stage approach to reality. In his theory, the human subject was endowed with “sensibility,” a passive and receptive quality of the mind, which was aﬀected by things as they are. Sensibility generated intuition, which was an active quality of the mind. Intuition begot the understanding of what was sensibly perceived. Intuition in turn was a product of “a priori” categories in the mind that conﬁgured the domain of objects into a domain of concepts, thus engendering thought. Knowledge did not conform to the domain of objects; rather, it was the objects that conformed to sensibility and the categories innately utilized in forming those categories, concepts, and thought. Sensibility and understanding were the limits of our interpretation of our world and the reason that we could not perceive “things in themselves” but only things as they appeared to us. Kant introduced the concept of imagination (which transcends perception) as the compromise between sensibility and understanding. It provided the synthetic categories of causality, reality, reciprocity, etc. It allowed perception to become thought, thought to become understanding, and understanding to become judgment. His view was that natural sciences deal only with the appearance of things and do not yield any knowledge of things in themselves.
Fichte (1762–1814) thought that Kant did not explain the link between sensation and understanding and did not expound on the derivatives of the innate categories that organized our knowledge. However, he took Kant’s notion of I think as the datum of experience and embarked on a very novel metaphysical trip into duality. He stated that both the world and I were strangers to us, though it was the I that apprehended both the external (the non-I) and the mental states (the I). The I that apprehended the mental states did that transcendentally and not by taking the mental as an object of its action, because the I was not a thing or a substance. It was an activity of self-positing that existed in self-awareness but was continually in a dialectical engagement with the non-I (the antithesis), a dialectical negation to aﬃrm the existence of each of them. A second duality was born: that the I has to negate itself in order to become the synthesis of that duality. The most important outcome of the dialectics of the I was Fichte’s expansion of the issue of understanding. He considered the I’s understanding to be geared toward causality because causality was an internal understanding, while reason was external (note his reversal of Spinoza’s formulation).
Hegel’s (1770–1831) approach to comprehending the subject was more straightforward and penetrating. He considered the entire history of Man’s intellectual development a continuous eﬀort of the mind to know itself. He perceived knowledge as a process that is dialectical. At any stage of its progression it unravels the ignorance that needed to be removed by virtue of that knowledge. Thus, a kind of new knowledge emerges as a synthesis of previous knowledges and the ignorance that constituted its antithesis. Nothingness becomes the antithesis of being and forces the mind to discover itself. This dialectical motion produced rationality, which is the equivalent of reality, therefore making anything real intrinsically rational. Hegel’s philosophy was an examination of the subject’s mind and its natural way of knowing, and it was, at the same time, the natural way of knowing the subject’s mind.
Fichte and Hegel’s dialectics were not helpful in analysing the duality of the subject. There was no clue to which of the representation or the represented constituted the thesis, so we could constitute a clear polarity of thesis/antithesis that would permit further analysis. Even the notion of the link as a synthesis did not lead to anything of value, because it contained nothing more than elements of both the represented and the representation. However, this time the subject took centre stage once again; this time as the location of that link. The subject turned out to be the creator of the link and the one who should discover it. His success or even his failure in discovering that link meant an eﬀort to discovering his “self.” The previous dualities between the subject and nature gave way to a duality between a subject’s reason and his emotions. The subject alone was to unlock that puzzling secret. The subject who was supposed to know had become the object of that knowledge, and the process thus came to a gradual halt. The subject had become a subject and an object of knowledge, both waiting for someone to ﬁnd a way to introduce them to each other and unlock that impasse.
Schelling (1775–1854) took the opposite position from Kant’s view of where duality existed. He was of the opinion that duality is a quality inherent in nature, because nature effectuated and expressed itself according to the law of “polarities,” or as pairs of opposite though complementary forces. He talked about the unconscious in the context of a process that strives toward its negation. Thus, he posited it in the context of a duality with consciousness. He considered the whole nature of life a teleological advancement toward consciousness, thus the unconscious, in his consideration, was a manifested ﬁnality that is a teleological advancement toward consciousness. It is not clear whether he meant that nature has that quality of unconsciousness or he conceived of nature as the unconscious state of the human mind that strives toward consciousness (see Hegel).
Schopenhauer (1788–1860) viewed the world as a representation of the way the principle of suﬃcient reason (Leibniz) is applied in the four root areas of thinking: the physical world we perceive; judgment or the logical sphere, where truth lies; spatial and temporal intuitions (mathematics); motivation and will. Comprehending the laws of causality led him to understand their conceptual representation (Vorstellogen), which was secondary to abstraction. Schopenhauer distinguished between the thing (the phenomenal) and the thing-in-itself (the noumenal). He applied that duality to the subject and came to the conclusion that the nature of the nominal subject is unconscious, and that his unconscious was a storehouse of motivations and desires, while the phenomenal Subject was conscious, even if only of part of himself. Thus, the unconscious was reﬂective of the subject’s truth and will. Schopenhauer’s unconscious was very much the antecedent of Freud’s id (a reservoir of the instincts).
Von Hartmann (1842–1906) tried to ﬁnd the common ground between Schopenhauer and Kant. He agreed with Schopenhauer that the ultimate reality of the subject was unconscious, but he did not agree that it was “blind” will. Von Hartmann regarded the unconscious as having two coordinated functions: will and idea. Will was unable to produce any teleological processes and was accountable for the sense of existence of the that, or the world, while idea was incapable of objectifying the world and accounted for the what of the world, or the nature of that world. He suggested that the end of telos is the liberation of the idea from servitude under the will. Therefore, it becomes possible to advance toward consciousness.
In the nineteenth century, the metaphysics of German idealism were matured enough to start declining. However, exhausted it looked, it succeeded in leading to the point where the subject’s perception of himself as an object of consciousness, and his consciousness of his consciousness, revealed an intrinsic and deﬁnite gap, if not an abyss in those dualities. This gap, demanded bridging. Metaphysics in general and the issue of the subject’s duality were facing unavoidable shifts due to a general acceptance and assimilation of the ‘subject’s duality’. One of the most prominent of those shifts was Marx’s (1818–1883) dialectical materialism and what he referred to as turning Hegel’s dialectics downside up. He was critical of Hegel’s notion that reality is a product of ideas, which made the thought process an independent act of the spirit (mind). Marx’s penetrating insights into the limitations of Hegel’s idealism emphasized that the subject’s consciousness and his being were determined by the material social conditions he lives. Marx was the only philosopher yet who linked the subject’s duality with social reality. He explained consciousness as a reflection of inter-social dynamics that initiates awareness on a social scale. His inter-social dynamics related awareness to interaction with between the subject and his society, i.e., not in vacuum.
Although Marx meant the subject as a constituent of his society-not an ontological entity- he was the first philosopher who indirectly (unconsciously) raises the issue of the intrapsychical structure of the individual. In Marxism, the subject is an entity that is moulded by its society, thus whatever the subject is, his ‘potentials’ will be arranged according to the demands put on him from his society in order to join and fit in it. The subject is the elaboration of the workings of the social forces. This conception is the underpinning of Freud’s exploration of role of the interfamilial dynamics in ‘making the subject’.
German metaphysical idealism led to a subject that, first of all, is not an ontological entity but a phenomenon of being and becoming. It also established his dual property as his basic condition and not a matter of opinion or choice. Thus, the subject emerged from all those philosophical endeavours a phenomenon of existence and not merely an empirical entity. The phenomenologists and the existentialists (e.g., Husserl and Heidegger, 1889–1976) considered the subject’s duality an existential dilemma. There is no escaping from the fact of the non-singularity of the subject, but the subject is a singularity that is of being-in-the world. The dilemma of comprehending the dual existence of the subject is the gap between the constituents of his duality. The essence of the dilemma was a gap, which is very much the essence of his existence, because the subject’s consciousness and whatever was not yet in his consciousness (Foucault called it the unthought) are together his existence. In other words, duality stood for a schism in the subject that gave him a bi-existence. The most that could be done with this dilemma came from the notion that bi-existence in the world introduced the concept of the counterpart. The subject is himself and a counterpart of himself. But what is the counterpart? Is it different from Schelling’s unconscious or Schopenhauer’s? Yes, it is different, as we will see a bit later.
This very brief -almost hasty- exposition of the dealings of the thinkers with the issue of the human subject highlights points of interest that relate from near or afar to issues that were examined in a ‘psychoanalytic’ way by Freud, in his 53 years of working on the human subject. Freud is a product of that philosophical heritage (he thought of becoming himself a philosopher. Every philosopher in the chain of Western philosophy uncovered and aspect of what is human in the human subject. They reached the point where duality has to be “meaningful”. Duality had to find its explanation not in philosophy but outside its sphere, i.e., virtue is not only a religious demand but is also a social value. The phenomenologist and the existentialists revised the concept of duality to become a concept of subject and his counterpart. But, they could not make the counterpart speak to its complementary part. Freud was there and managed to make the counterpart speak to us, and tell us who he is, better who are we.
Psychoanalysis was then born; the subject and his counterpart learned to speak and listen to each other.