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Reading Plato's Symposium

The Letter, Issue 10, Summer 1997, Pages 40 - 72


Barry O'Donnell


Lacan decided that an analysis of the Symposium of Plato in his Seminar of 1960 - 1961 would be an illuminating detour by which to investigate the transference relation in psychoanalysis.[1] This investigation centred on the question of the desire of the analyst and the ethical implication of where the analyst ought to situate himself in order to respond to the transference.

Central to the discussion is the concept of identification and the role of the ego ideal. There is a danger in analysis that the analyst is offered the place of the ego ideal for the analysand and that he assumes this position by abandoning his role as subject-who-is-supposed-to-know (sujet-suppose-savoir) and erroneously taking the position of the one who knows (master of knowledge). In this case the desire of the analyst is the desire to 'understand' the analysand and falling for this lure is a sign of the incompetence of the analyst. The challenge facing the analyst is much more difficult than reaching an understanding and communicating that understanding to the analysand. It requires the ability to know how and when not to know, to be able to be desiring in the full sense that Lacan gives to this term, and to do this in a way that makes possible the realisation of the desire of the analysand by the analysand. It is primarily by a certain refusal on the part of the analyst that the dynamic of the transference should work. This refusal, this Versagung or not- saying[2] requires a clear distinction between 'identification' at the level of the imaginary (a narcissistic identification involving the ideal ego), and identification at the level of the Symbolic (which involves the ego ideal). Where should the analyst position himself so that these two identifications, which are always present, can be distinguished? Lacan suggests that this position is possible only from the place of the lack in the Other, the place of S(0) on the Graph of Desire. The end of analysis and the resolution of the transference have to do not just with an arrival at this place where the seemingly endless metonymical movement of the signifier comes to a halt before the big phi, the term of symbolic castration, but also with a pointing beyond this place of the void, this place towards which the che vuoi? of the analysand is directed. In other words the end of analysis should not stop at the place where the subject recognises himself as desirable but should point to some beyond (and it seems to be the recognition of the lack in the Other, the ouden of the analyst, which constitutes this pointing) so that the subject recognises that he is implicated as desiring.

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