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Paper given by Chris Oakley at the College of Psychoanalysts International Conference PSYCHOANALYSIS AND STATE REGULATION, 31 March–1 April 2006


We have all become the same kind of people who think the same kind of things, and who for the most part partake of the same kind of knowledge. It would appear that the vast majority all seem to share the same belief, perhaps just the other side of the same despair, that all must submit to a particular conviction that psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, call it what you will, it’s all the same to me, would be best served in all of its three forms: as discourse, as community, as a therapy through increased regulation, increased surveillance and increased work ethic. And this has been going on for years. We have all become somnambulists in an occupied territory, a territory pre-occupied with a subliminal ideology, or on closer inspection not so subliminal at all. The model is one that is so familiar to ‘New Labour’ and the Blair legacy of ‘market management’, although the beginnings were always prompted by the shitwitch from Grantham and her ‘enterprise culture’.

The novelist Iain Sinclair was recently on television airing his prophesies regarding the effect that the Olympics will have on his beloved East End. What he suggested will happen is that an area that once one could feely roam and wander around within, discovering aspects of its history in ones own time and at ones own pace, (the modality of drift so close to the heart of the psychoanalytic enterprise) will be taken over by blue plaque heritage trails, where all will be dragooned into following a set of pre-ordained paths (the modality of consumer choice). This is the Marilyn Strathern thesis in her article ‘The Tyranny of Transparency’, in which one kind of reality is eclipsed by another. And as with all occupied territories a violence is never far away. The weapons that operate are the vocabulary used. Or perhaps more appropriately put the word is not so much violence as a virulence, for it is a virus that has infected the communities of psychoanalysis, spawning a contagion, a grotesque chain reaction that congeals around a particular symptom: registers and registration. All immunity or any power to resist has been destroyed. A contagion of collaboration unfolds. All appear cowed and timorous in the face of an avalanche of undigested proposals for a safer, more secured existence. It was Winnicott that I associate with the idea that when we are caught up in an anxiety that the dreadful is about to happen (now posited as State or statutory regulation), the catastrophe has always already occurred. We all must situate ourselves in so called ‘centres of excellence’, and we all so obediently line up to be anointed by these violations. Recently my own organisation engaged in the familiar self preening when the word was enthusiastically disseminated that “the inspectors had passed the organisation’s training, claiming it of be a ‘beacon of excellence’. So that’s all right then.

Let us begin by examining the genealogy of registration and explore the relation between the universal and the singular. Psychoanalysis is always on the side of the singular as there is no repeatability in play. Philosophers of Science will argue that the status of a particular discourse as science does not inevitably require repeatability, but for the rest of us it starts to make things look pretty difficult. But back to the issue of registration and the proliferation of lists, and regulatory bodies. One example of which would be the comparatively newly formed College of Psychoanalysts. What you will witness is a weakening, a flight into the lowest common denominator, all driven by a desire for expansion corresponding to the weakest definition. But why pick on the poor College? After all this proliferation of lists has been going on for some considerable time, and this seemingly unstaunchable diffusion of registration over anything and everything has increasingly taken on pornographic proportions, an interactive copulation so in our faces, so obscenely magnified in importance as all obediently march in step to sign on for the post Cartesian imperative ‘I register, therefore I am’. And inevitably this swirls, this circulates like oil or capital, all is marinated in these concerns, and akin to the universality of globalisation all appears irreversible. And from the disassociated margins one can marvel at the faultless mastery of this almost invisible operation (invisible because it blinds us all, particularly to the excess of surveillance that was always already there, and to the unrelenting extrusion of singularity, the latter barely an accidental consequence for it merely follows the very logic of registration). It is hardly controversial to point to the compulsive homogenisation, the undifferentiated universality that saturates the terrain, a regime of safety in numbers as all huddle to avoid the overarching panoptic searchlight of suspicion that engulfs us all. Suspicion of negligence at least, to be offset by copious CPD endorsements, or carefully archived evidence that one is adhering to ones PLP (personal learning plan…me? I’m off for a wander in the East End) or suspicion of abuse at worst, all to be dealt with by the multiplication of complaints procedures. And while we are on the subject of the aforementioned violence that emerges through language, through an intrusion of a particular vocabulary, try as a car journey game to catalogue any abbreviations that have become the name itself, one such example would be CPD, that are not incorrigibly associated with authority and control, for example: FBI, CIA, MI5, DHSS, UKCP,…one exception, something more benign is that blighted zone the NHS). An immediate effect is that all that is other, alternative, or singular is consigned to the periphery, the wild of the wilderness, and left to perish. Or at least that is the prevailing fantasy. So what can thwart this homogenising regulatory power? Certainly not movements or initiatives that set up analogous lists with the invariant: an inside and an outside, all a spurious offering of shelter from the storm. Such enterprises may have some small scale political impact but it’s symbolic or social impact is almost nil, as they can only meekly engage in a mimesis of the problem, all continuing to be subordinated to the system. Let us allow Beckett’s indifference ‘what does it matter who is speaking’? The subject always standing as an obstacle, an impediment that will always distract from the discourse: in other words a fiddling whilst psychoanalysis burns.

But of course I am preaching to the converted here, or at least I hope that I am. The history and the potentialities of psychoanalysis are manifestly disrupted, disfigured even, and the claim is that we are engaged in a pernicious self mutilation. As I proposed the terrain is occupied but so are the conditions for analysis. To analyse the manifest paucity of, to use Derrida’s favourite word in the French language: ‘Resistance’ to all of this. The violence of the new vocabulary, which I am sure has been rehearsed endlessly over this conference, is so overwhelming, so insistent, that at times it seems impossible to think psychoanalysis differently. Psychoanalysis and its place as one of the chapters in the history of trance now appears to have become subject to a potentially fatal state of hypnotic seizure: a community mesmerised by registration. It exerts an extraordinary fascination, and more and more energy is jubilantly poured into chasing down increasingly complex systems of control and surveillance. The rational for which, no doubt traced out in its myriad forms in other papers, is a moral condemnation in mixed with the holy alliance against abuse (the micro political fixation, at a macro political level it is of course terror with so called environmental disasters trailing in its wake…bird flu anyone?). But this at a conscious level is on a par with an overwhelming but entirely unconscious desire to play a part in the mutilation of the superpower that Psychoanalysis has become. Whatever the theoretical or formal allegiances, whatever the differences, psychoanalysis has become the same sort of people thinking the same sort of things. One is this imperative to register and the other is that there would be an impossibility to inaugurate or carry on a training that would not be handcuffed to a registering body, impossible not to have as a final destination the holy grail of eligibility for precisely this registration. And yet this leads to such an orgy of disfiguring bureaucracy that it lends itself to the speculation that at some, no doubt disavowed level, there is a secret delight in this uncontainable self dispossession.

For Psychoanalysis has become a superpower. Under the auspices of the ruling dictum of western individualism we are all subject to the demand that we know who we are, the assumption being via the myth of interiority that inside us all resides a truth, in part an unconscious truth, and that truth is sexual. It saturates our world and we are kidnapped by it. And in order to track down this truth, the truth of our desire, which can only emerge in language, we have to listen. To listen to what we ourselves are saying, and as an instance of the ubiquity of psychoanalysis we need look no further than acknowledging that the notion of ‘the Freudian slip’ is hardly talking shop. Of course it would be absurd to suggest that psychoanalysis inaugurated this thinking. Foucault locates it as stemming from the Judao-Christian confessional when the ancient obligation of knowing oneself became the monastic call to ‘confess each of your thoughts’. His claim is that this was the origin of the contemporary hermeneutics of the self, and that psychoanalysis is now the top dog set within the confines of these concerns.

If we accept that psychoanalysis as the dominant, indeed dominating, discourse is in this position of a Superpower, analogous to the symbolic place of the Twin Towers, then we can allow that this has become unbearable, and is in itself responsible for the violence that is endemic throughout our world (of course I am limiting the term ‘our world’ to the microcosm of the psychoanalytic community.) Freud was entirely prescient with regard to such things: no one can avoid having destructive fantasies towards any power that has become hegemonic to such a degree. And violence and desecration are now what haunt the scene. The mild and truly pathetic version of this would be the spurious spites and spasms of the trade wars over who is entitled to call themselves what (pathetic not because Joe Public couldn’t give a fuck, we are all shrinks in their book, but pathetic because it is so suffused with the self aggrandising self interest of our wretched egos, always already pathetic, however much we are all entangled in just such considerations).

At times it may look as if ‘they’ did it, as if it was always the others, but actually it is we who wished for it, and seemingly continue to do so. For unless this is acknowledged then what is going on becomes almost accidental, a seemingly arbitrary act, or merely the murderous phantasmagoria of a handful of paranoid ego maniacs (the Pokornoys, the Deurzen Smiths of our world) at the higher echelons of the UKCP, the BCP. But of course this is not an accurate reading of the situation, the contagion is everywhere, all are infected and to merely propose ignoring the emetic utterances from the cardinals of these regulatory bodies would be futile. We have to acknowledge its ubiquity, like that obscure object of desire, everywhere there is a lust for this catastrophic occupation. We cannot avoid recognising a deep seated complicity, a deep seated but utterly disavowed collaboration, with regard to this self mutilating desire for registration, although this is always already posited as elsewhere. What we are left with, fetishised no doubt, are these computorisable lists, handbooks of practitioners. These representations have become our primal scene: everything stems from this, and everybody strains against the unbearable possibility of being left out. And they have utterly transformed the culture, as we bear testimony to an uninterrupted profusion of banality, a seamless flow of sham information (competencies? excellence? singularity?). And yet there is a curious ambiguity in all this. Identity and inclusion is now exalted but paradoxically these lists, by taking identity and multiplying it to infinity, facilitates a diversification and a neutralisation, all subject to the unforgiving law of equivalence. Our community of psychoanalysis consumes these lists, it absorbs them, is absorbed by them, and offers them up for consumption. And we sit back and watch as psychoanalysis eats itself up.

Clearly any location of this passionate distaste, a hatred even, of the dominant ideology simply in those who elect to end up on the other side of a world order moves beyond the CBT merchants and the toxic psychiatrists. Nor can it be limited to that small cluster of supplicants who feel short changed, disinherited or exploited…and of course this can happen. Yet despite the implications of transference psychoanalysis is always an activity between consenting adults. Rather we might glimpse that amidst those of us who so manifestly share in the advantages of this privileged enclosure, that psychoanalysis has become, are similarly if unconsciously implicated. We all have a malicious desire in our hearts. And curiously there is something on the side of health in all of this. For there is an almost inevitable ambivalence culminating in an allergic reaction to each and any dominant or definitive world order, and psychoanalysis takes its place as precisely this: a defining order. There can be no call for the suggestion of a death drive, or some destructive instinct. Nor can we claim that what is going on is the result of perverse but unintended effects; after all you will hear it repeatedly from those who are utterly cogniscent of the effects, ‘but what I so wrong with this way of proceeding?’ Inexorably and with an impeccable internal logic the increase in the power of the definitive order will be co-existent with the desire to destroy, to disfigure it. They go hand in hand. And maybe all the better for it, if it did not involve a setting up of these contaminating regulatory self mutilating powers. De-construction is not to be conflated with a nihilistic desecration.

Psychoanalysis far from being on its knees is in the position of the All Mighty, in the place of the big Other, taking up the situation vacant in our secular age, is in the place of God (and see what an orgy of violence religion has brought forth). Psychoanalysis has become an Empire of the Good: the way, the truth. It proposes a narrative of divine omniscience, no doubt veiled by Freud’s recourse to the ‘naval of the dream’, that which will ultimately resist the closure of comprehension, the bit of the dream that we just don’t get. Psychoanalysis, and remember Freud muttering to Jung and Ferenczi on the boat to America “We are bringing them the Plague”, was always deeply implicated in imperialistic tendencies. And now as a way of thinking ourselves it holds a monopoly to such an extent that it was only a matter of time before these impulses to reject, to do harm to such an all powerful system would become manifest.

After all we get so much from psychoanalysis. An earlier analysis of this narrative of compulsive collusion proposed that what we were witnessing was a hysterical flight from the ‘too much’, the surplus enjoyment always on the side of a brimming over that was at the heart of the psychoanalytic tie…the greatest amount of fun you can have with another whilst still keeping your clothes on (well football has its moments). Hysteria always proposing a substitute narrative, in this case one of this unrelenting call for control and containment. But whilst I am loath to entirely let drop such possibilities it appears that something more insidious is in play. We find ourselves in a situation of general gratification, for all is potentially given to us, we are the privileged beneficiaries of the dominant discourse. And through this we are bound by a symbolic debt that humiliatingly is impossible to repay. To the ‘positive transference’ (psychoanalysis never lets go, remember) there will be the inevitable response in the form of a ‘negative counter transference’. In other words a violent abreaction to this captive life, this privileged enclosure, to this saturation of our lives. It is a transferential or hypnotic effect or fall out, in that we fall out with ourselves, because of the humiliation involved in being unable to extricate ourselves from these insistent and dominating certainties. Inevitably this is denied but as we all know, what is denied runs wild. And this reversal, this turning upon ourselves is via this grand confinement of regulation and registration, which has incontestably run amok. And so we play out (unconsciously) the impotent denial of our self hatred and the unfaltering flow of disavowed remorse. Registration is the debased form of a counter-gift, in the forlorn hope that it might cash out as a sacrificial offering that might appease these virulent anxieties. The obscure object of our resentment, what we have come to detest in ourselves, is precisely this excess of power and comfort. This abuses us, forcing us into an abyss of despair, and so drives us to furiously rage against abuse, always elusive, always elsewhere.

There have always been the two Freuds, always already in conflict: the one who wanted to get psychoanalysis recognised as a science, who craved respectability and set up conditions for training, inaugurated institutes. For this Enlightenment Freud psychoanalysis was a form of expert knowledge about the workings and misworkings of the mind, with particular emphasis on the unconscious. The analyst was someone who knew how to go about providing the so-called patient with a cure for unhappiness, although to suggest any guarantee of this would engage in a particular fraudulence. The second Freud, which might be called the post-Freudian Freud becomes an ironist of the Enlightenment project. Now there is a fuller recognition of the slipperiness of words, of the impossibility of a complete self knowledge, of the impossibility of expertise. In other words psychoanalysis came to embrace the idea that in so many instances people do not and cannot really know what they are doing or why they are doing it. And inevitably psychoanalysis itself cannot escape from this recognition. It is hardly a novel idea that this prompted the emergence of particular schools, the promotion of certain orthodoxies, and unleashing of specialist vocabularies in order to shore up this faltering sense of expertise. The difficulty being that by turning psychoanalysis into any kind of authority something of the heart of the project, namely that psychoanalysis is fundamentally anti-authoritarian, gets catastrophically lost. After all it is the task of any analyst to disabuse the so-called patient not only of the idea that this particular analyst is in any position to know the answers, but also of the idea that there were any answers in the first place. No master figure of authority to provide answers, to guarantee meaning, that there are no guarantees at all. But the difficulty is that whilst we are engaging in the potential gratifications of self congratulations, of how clever we are to have extricated ourselves from this claustrophobic set of demands we have taken our eye off the ball.

Whilst at the micro level of the consulting room we have hopefully successfully disrupted and dispersed the fiction of our authority, at a macro discursive level psychoanalysis, with its hallmark of the ‘Freudian subject’, emphatically remains the ‘only game in town’. This surplus of power, when no alternative form of thinking ourselves appears remotely possible (although with Foucault we can place our bets that one day something other will emerge) what other possibility is there but to turn on ourselves. To turn these regulatory insistencies on ourselves, tighter and tighter like an incorrigible tourniquet that inexorably drains the life blood out of the system. All this poses a seemingly insoluble challenge: if there appears no genuine possibility of thinking ourselves otherwise, then the inevitable and entirely predictable responses to this, in built as it were, at least as a structure if not the explicit content, appear equally unsusceptible to exchange. For such as it is, in its absurdity and its self loathing, it appears to be the verdict that this community has passed upon itself.

And it is not that I come with any answers, but it does seem unlikely that any single track counter-thinking, all united in some general historical action as a positive alternative seems genuinely about to happen. Possibly all that can thwart the system is singularity, but not as an alternative, not as oppositional…merely take up some other order. Neither for better or for worse. Somehow it is not addressing a particular political reality as much as avoiding it, and that may be as good as it gets.

Ipnosis is edited, maintained and © Denis Postle 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006
August 11 2006
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