This dialogue explores four aspects of the work of the Belgian artist Johan Clarysse: (i) the overdetermination or stratification of psychical determinants of plastic work, that is, the differentiation between conscious/preconscious determinants on the one hand and unconscious determinants on the other; (ii) the process of symbolising and/or representing affect in plastic work; (iii) formal research and its connection with self expression as implied in the work of Clarysse; and (iv) the role of chance and its impossi¬bility in the creation of plastic work.
In this article the author reports on his clinical work with a young man who is severely automutilating. Still very young, the patient is not only confronted with the death of his mother but moreover with a dead and unbearable silence about it. If, during adoles¬cence, the original trauma in a retroactive movement is reactivated, this results in whole¬sale autodestruction. Based in clinical conversation material, a number of dynamics that could ground automutilation are explored. It is argued that when the subject cannot contemplate his place in the desire of the first Other, that a break-through of the real takes place which produces an unlimited jouissance. The author also defends the assertion that working with these patients demands that the therapist takes up an active position. Signi¬fiers must be offered in order to protect the subject against a destructive confrontation with the real. This is only possible within a therapeutic alliance where trust and safety are sufficiently guaranteed.
Different approaches to literature in literary theory can often be reduced to Lacan’s four fundamental discourses. However, in his later work, Roland Barthes investi¬gates the possibility of another, alternative discourse, namely that of the lover. In this discourse, the Imaginary plays a key role. The Barthesian Imaginary functions as an active (in the Nietzschean sense of the word) and creative hermeneutic tool. Important here is the Phrase, a literary sentence supplied by the discourse of the Other, that almost “magically” helps us to name something of our desire. Barthes also closely links this Phrase to his interpretation of the fantasy as the moving force behind our reading. In this way, literature forces us, as subjects of desire, into confrontation with the deconstructed, but indestructible, sinthome of our love, our desire: our ego.
By means of two short cases taken from a practice with “special” youngsters, the author illustrates the resilience of the signifier. Fundamental and epistemological problems of psychoanalysis are constantly surfacing in that sort of clinical material and this applies even to trivial examples. It raises questions such as what is the unconscious? How can one know it? Time and again one is confronted with the duplicity of the signi¬fier, in practice as well as in theory. This can make it particularly difficult to maintain one’s intervention as psychoanalytic. Despite the failing symbolic, which can never bring about a complete effect in the real, the analyst is obliged to operate with the signifier. More so, the unconscious only gains the right to exist through the speech of a subject to a sujet supposé savoir, and only there, in the desire of the “patient” that talks to the analyst (who is a former “patient” himself), can psychoanalysis attempt to restrict the duplicity (amongst it the deceit of its own decay).
Discussing the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesj, a tale of the quest for immortal¬ity, and digressing from time to time towards the epics of Homer, the author searches for the essence of the literary hero. The psychoanalytic reading offered here does not aim to uncover some underlying truth about the author or his characters, but rather to elucidate the functioning of the text in relation to the reader. This functioning turns out to be multi¬layered. At first the epic offers its reader the possibility of imaginary identification. But it does not stop there: archaic heroism invariably turns out to be connected with the theme of death. Death, in epical context, represents the ultimate lack no hero can overcome. Faced with the inevitable failure of the hero, the reader also cannot escape from con¬fronting this lack. The positive note of the epic resides in the fact that it shows how this lack can be the foundation of the journey the hero undertakes, the story that develops around him, the subjectivity he symbolizes.