In an interview broadcast on National French Television in 1974, upon being asked the question “What may I hope for [from psychoanalysis]?” Jacques Lacan replied: “…[You] want to know what analytic discourse can promise you[…] Psychoanalysis would allow you, of course, the hope of refining and clarifying the unconscious of which you are the subject.” Lacan then goes on to explain that in order for this to stand a chance, the person seeking analysis must resolutely enter into the transference: they must admit and let themselves be admitted into their “relation to the supposed subject of knowledge which is a symptomatic manifestation of their unconscious.” It is, Lacan says, only through such an encounter – with one’s unconscious, with oneself as subject of the unconscious – that anyone who expects something from psychoanalysis may come to actualize the hope that leads them to consult a psychoanalyst (Television, Norton, 1990: 42-44).
Each individual will have their own reasons for coming to a psychoanalyst: their particular dissatisfactions and sufferings, their unique personal history, their own specific sense of something that does not quite seem to work out. Psychoanalysis is an offer of hearing linked with something that Lacan calls the ethic of bien dire (saying it well). The invitation of speaking to a psychoanalyst goes with the wager of being heard: being heard by an other, but also, and more importantly, by means of that other, of oneself coming to hear one’s own speech – something that is not possible without one’s consenting to assume the responsibility of making oneself be understood, above all to oneself.
In speaking with a psychoanalyst, each one will find a point of address supported by which they may reconstruct their lived and spoken history, and, thereby, may begin to order their complaints and make sense of their sufferings. In engaging with this process, each analysand will have the occasion to recognize and come to terms with the fact that the symptoms one complains about aren’t merely mute signs of organo-chemical dysfunction and dysregulation in the body or the brain, but, rather, that they are rightful, even if unwelcome, stakeholders in one’s subjectivity, in one’s personality. And although symptoms operate as if despite oneself, from a position that is eccentric and extimate to one’s conscious self, it is precisely through the mediation of one’s unconscious that a subjective connection to the symptom may be accessed and cultivated, such that symptoms begin to respond to a discerning ear’s being lent to their voice. It is in their sensitive responsiveness to the practice of the bien dire that symptoms become available as a wanting-to-say and a wanting-to-enjoy which may facilitate one’s inscription in a social bond instead of serving to sequester individual subjects in solitary confines of debility, inhibition, and anxiety.
The experience of psychoanalysis is an experience of participating in and practicing this responsive conversation in the presence of the analyst: a conversation about one’s symptom, and, progressively, even with one’s symptom, but not without acknowledging and enlisting one’s unconscious as ally and intercessor in this process.
Allowing oneself to be guided by this “faithfulness to the symptom’s formal envelope,” Lacan writes, leads “to the limit at which it swings back in creative effects” (Écrits, Norton, 2006: 52). Thus, with time, each analysand may come to uncover the significations that inhere in their symptoms, to discover the unspoken that pushes to be heard in their enactments, to identify the logic that organizes the repeated circuits of their suffering. Based on these insights, in due course each analysand may learn to judge what of their unconscious and of their symptoms to take seriously, what of them to rely upon, and to what extent. For it is, to paraphrase the concluding lines of Lacan’s Seminar XI, only in facing up to the primary signifiers of which one has been a subject, that one is, for the first time, in a position to choose whether to subject oneself to them anew, or not, and how. It is only thus that an analysand may learn to draw the conclusions necessary for inventing and following truly new and satisfying pathways for their life.
Psychoanalysis is a practice of deconstructing and rebuilding one’s symptoms, an ethic of recasting one’s relationship with the symptom. Such transformation does take time and concerted effort. However, when followed through, it not only brings relief from the very personal suffering and anguish lodged in the symptom, but also releases the living, enlivening, and life-sustaining aspects of one’s singularly responsive self that lie in abeyance therein.