Jamieson Webster, PhD, is a psychoanalyst in New York City. She teaches at Eugene Lang College and New York University. Her work focuses on clinical and theoretical psychoanalysis with an interdisciplinary focus on feminine sexuality, philosophy, and aesthetics. Her recent book Life and Death of Psychoanalysis has been on my radar for a while, and I was particularly intrigued by her critique of Adorno and her use/critique/admiration for Badiou. We discussed Badiou and the state of psychoanalysis in the current.
C. Derick Varn: In reading your Life and Death of Psychoanalysis, I noticed you spend a lot of time on the way in which Badiou enabled you to think about Lacan in a broader sense and broaden a since of inquiry in psychoanalysis. Do you think Badiou has any implications for psychoanalytic practice that are unique to him?
Jamieson Webster: I do think that Badiou has implications for psychoanalytic practice that are unique to him. I’m happy that you see that I wanted to convey what Badiou opens up through his work with Lacan and that he enables something in particular for the practicing analyst. I’m hard on Badiou in the last part of the book. One must always be hard on one’s masters. But I certainly feel guilty about it from time to time and wonder if people can see how I only take apart the one’s I love. Badiou showed me a side of Lacan that was important in ways that I hope we can talk about. And he has an unprecedented, inimitable, at times even uncanny ability to clarify whole trajectories of thought. It is unbelievable what he is able to do in such broad strokes. It is not only Lacan — but of course Lacan for me as a psychoanalyst is the most important — but Deleuze, Sartre, Beckett, Hegel, Marx, Plato, that he contextualizes in terms of the rigor of their philosophical, literary or political projects. Where they stand in relation to the question of truth. It is hard to pull back and get an overview — and I know this is something that I’ve faulted him for from one angle, too much distance— but he gives you this glimpse of the entire philosophical project at the same time that he treats these various constellations with respect and due diligence. He gets in trouble for this systematizing, and not only by me. The Deleuzians were out for blood I hear. But I’ve never been able to see Deleuze’s project so clearly before reading The Clamour of Being. What a great title?
But I’ve evaded your question. As far as clinical practice goes, there was something about Badiou’s notion of the event, the distinction between being and event, and the quality of the event as an event of absolute affirmation in its contingent, subjectivizing, historicity, that hit me like a flash of lightning. That this is what we, as psychoanalysts, listen for day after day. This is what we wait for, silence after silence. And it wasn’t merely as a characterization of what the unconscious event is that this made such an impact, it was also in terms of what I was missing in most of the other philosophies that I was reading at the time, perhaps notably in terms of The Life and Death of Psychoanalysis, in critical theory. I can see lineaments of the event in the thought of Adorno or Benjamin now, but not before having read Badiou, because their work is wrapped in too much negativity and indebtedness to dialectical thinking. The event is a radical break from both, the result of being able to maintain the tension of negativity and dialectical movement, but something that crashes through what I characterize as a kind of melancholic pathos in post-World-War-II philosophy. The event cuts through aporia, dialectical impasse, and infinite regress. It is ephemeral, it doesn’t last, but it has this cutting edge. As a practicing analyst, this is certainly something we face everyday and the work of the analyst is supposed to have the same impact- a cut, punctuation, words stopping you in your tracks, facing up to a truth that surprises and even startles. Important as well, the event is not a moment of synthesis but rather the emergence of something new. While there are syncretic or synthetic aspects to the event, I think Badiou’s stress on newness and the unforeseeable is important for the practicing clinician. Badiou does not emphasize understanding or knowledge, he does not emphasize synthetic-adaptive solutions to conflict or opposing positions (what analysts sometimes call the third). He emphasizes what I think of as closer to the emergence of a signifier from the unconscious, which is closer to a point of non-meaning or the reduction of meaning. The ground is cleared enough for something new to break in and shift ways of understanding, habitual conflicts, and seeming oppositions. And he not only theorizes the event as I’ve just characterized it, he practices it to my mind in his countless books which indeed shake you up and clear the ground.
Also important for a psychoanalyst — Badiou understands something powerful about love, something that I think I wanted psychoanalysis to have something to say about, but often couldn’t find, and I was floundering around, looking for a way out of the impasse of desire and love that Freud characterized so well. Badiou understands what it means to speak from the place of what he calls the event of love, the affirmation of the impossibility of two, making love this force of desire in the face of the ephemeral nature of love, an act of radical faith. Certainly, as an analyst, I also immediately hear the implications of transference. Serge Leclaire — Lacan’s disciple — said the analyst is someone in the difficult place of welcoming, even inviting, words of love from their patients but who must find a way not to deny them but also not to gratify them, allowing them to be spoken, which painfully, even tragically, only makes the difficulty of saying or having said, even worse — its only ever words.
You can see this clearly in Badiou’s reading of Beckett. He always quotes two sets of passages. One from the beginning and end of, Ill Said, Ill Seen, and another from the end of Beckett’s short story,Enough. The first, he says, is one of the most beautiful texts in French and captures the beauty of a kind of feminine abjection and the easing of that misfortune in the momentary acceptance of the void,
From where she lies she sees Venus rise. On. From where she lies when the skies are clear she sees Venus rise followed by the sun. Then she rails at the source of all life. On. At evening when the skies are clear she savours its star’s revenge. At the other window. Rigid upright on her old chair. It emerges from out the last rays and sinking ever brighter is engulfed in its turn. On. She sits on erect and rigid in the deepening gloom. Such helplessness to move she cannot help. Heading on foot for a particular point often she freezes on the way. Unable till long after to move on not knowing whither or for what purpose. Down on her knees especially she finds it hard not to remain so forever. Hand resting on hand on some convenient support. Such as the foot of her bed. And on them her head. There then she sits as though turned to stone face to the night. Save for the white of her hair and faintly bluish white of face and hands all is black. For an eye having no need of light to see. All this in the present as had she the misfortune to be still of this world.
Decision no sooner reached or rather long after than what is the wrong word? For the last time at last for to end yet again what the wrong word? Than revoked. No but slowly dispelled a little very little like the wisps of day when the curtain closes. Of itself by slow millimetres or drawn by a phantom hand. Farewell to farewell. Then in that perfect dark foreknell darling sound pip for end begun. First last moment. Grant only enough remain to devour all . Moment by glutton moment. Sky, earth, the whole kit and boodle. Not another crumb of carrion left. Lick chops and basta. No. One moment more. One last. Grace to breathe that void. Know happiness.
And from, Enough,
This notion of calm comes from him. Without him I would not have had it. Now I’ll wipe out everything but the flowers. No more rain. No more mounds. Nothing but the two of us dragging through the flowers. Enough my old breasts feel his old hand.
Badiou constanly turns back to these quotations, and if you know his voice, he reads them to you like a lullaby. Such helplessness to move she cannot help. On… One last. Grace to breathe that void… I’ll wipe out everything but the flowers… Enough. Love is not sentimental piety, it is not symbiotic sublime union, it is not utilitarian contractual relations, it is something closer to what Beckett is able to evoke… continuing on despite impossibility, an affirmation of absolute helplessness, dejection sometimes, and yet, miraculously, momentary affirmation, the arousal of a void that brings grace, truth, encounter, and love that drags and grows old, and only when everything has been wiped out, is it finally enough. Maybe I take things too far, but I think you can see in this the profound passage of the analysand in analysis. Continue reading