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The proximity of the other. Psychoanalysis and Levinas

The Letter, Issue 21, Spring 2001, Pages  28 - 40


THE PROXIMITY OF THE OTHER. PSYCHOANALYSIS AND LEVINAS[1]

Rob Weatherill


Introduction

This paper attempts to demonstrate the importance of the work of Levinas for an ethics of psychoanalysis that transcends ideological difference. Firstly, the role of language in psychoanalysis and the construction of subjectivity is stressed, secondly, the work of Bion and the containment of anxiety. However, beyond these 'positions', there remains the impossible proximity of the other as singularity, for whom, according to Levinas, I am responsible without limit. For Levinas, as for Freud, the subject is not one, but instead, open, gaping, exposed between being and nothingness, a diachrony, which language, the Law and philosophical systems in general, dissimulate and betray. Technique saves the analyst from this proximity of the 'client' but at once becomes cynical and complacent, unless it remains haunted by its own resistance to the other, indeed its own failure.


Post-Lacan, no one could dispute the central place that language holds in the practice of psychoanalysis. The son of alcoholic parents talks about 'bottling-up' his feelings; the man whose father is a womaniser dreams of 'raking' the autumn leaves. A French analyst reports that his patient dreams of giving him *six roses*. The patient's father had died of 'cirrhosis' of the liver. A woman who has troublingly missed her period dreams of a newspaper 'being read all over'. The significance of the word 'rat' for the Rarman is multiple.[2] The rat, the biting dirty little animal, the rat/ children lured away by the Pied Piper of Hamelin, heiraten meaning to marry, Raten meaning installments, or the payments to Freud for sessions 'so many florins, so many rats', spielratte (a play-rat, a gambler, as his father was), rat equals penis, the carrier of infections and diseases, rats burrow into the anus, anal eroticism and the pleasurable itching of worms in his childhood, the rat that runs over his father's grave, the biting rat (as a child he had bitten someone), and so on. More condensation is at work in the description of the 'May-beetle dream',[3] where a may-beetle was crushed by the closing of a window. The dreamers associations were: a moth had drowned in a tumbler of water the night before, her daughter's cruelty to insects, the plague of may-beetles, her birthday was in May, as was her wedding. At the time of her dream, her husband was away and she had the involuntary thought aimed at her husband: 'Go hang yourself. Earlier she had read that a man who is hanged gets an erection. Get an erection at any price. The dreamer was aware that the most powerful aphrodisiac is prepared from crushed beetles. And so on, as we trace out the weaving, the inter-weaving, the cross hatching, the multiple determinations that surround any utterance. [4]

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