Three Psychoanalytic Readings of the Buddhist Emptiness

Both Buddhism and psychoanalysis show us alternative ways to bear human suffering. Buddhism teaches us the path of emptiness (śūnyatā), psychoanalysis that of sublimation. In this comparative literature study we explore how we can conceptualize the realization (jñāna) of emptiness based on the psychoanalytic conceptual framework. For this comparison we respectively use Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā and Lacan’s seventh seminar, supplemented with secondary literature. In the process of sublimation an object is elevated to the dignity of the Thing. In order to understand the buddhistic emptiness we make a distinction between the metaphysics of emptiness, indicating an intellectual understanding of emptiness, and the realization (jñāna) of emptiness, which refers to the meditative penetration of emptiness. When one realizes emptiness and one sees reality like it is, one is free of attachment (taṇhā) or fixation. We offer three psychoanalytic readings of the buddhistic emptiness. In a first reading we follow Lacan’s definition of sublimation and as such consider the Thing as a source of evil. This reading is compatible with the metaphysics of emptiness. In a second and third reading we adapt Lacans definition of sublimation by restricting the Thing to an empty and unknowable space. This is compatible with Lacan’s conceptualization of the Thing based on his reading of Kant’s Critique of the Practical Reason. This redefinition of the Thing in Lacan’s conceptualization of sublimation we conceive as the alternative sublimation. This adaption is necessary to understand what Buddhism means by the realization of emptiness.

Lacanian Sublimation and Verticality

This is a study of the relationship between sublimation and verticality in architecture – specifically Gothic architecture – and in psychoanalysis – more precisely, the Lacanian formula that sublimation “raises an object to the dignity of the Thing” (Lacan, 1986 [1959-1960]: 133). We begin the analysis of this relationship from Freud’s assertion in Civilization and Its Discontents that the “verticality” of man (“die Aufrichtung des Menschen“) is “the beginning of the inevitable process of civilization” (Freud, 1930a [1929]). We will then study the logic of dissatisfaction, as a producer of the big push towards the Top, whilst demonstrating that the circle established between the building of civilization and the operation of sublimation is not just a beneficial, but also a dissolute, circle. This circle shows the link between sublimation and the death drive (Freud, 1923b), thus implying the danger of the operation (Lacan, 1994 [1956-1957]; Lacan, 1986 [1959-1960]). We will also try to show that Freud’s thesis about verticality is related to sublimation, working to change the order of the drive whilst making it higher, “höheres Ziel” (Freud, 1908a). The “höheres Ziel” of Freudian psychoanalysis is connected to the “quanto altius” of architecture, the latter having been pioneered by Suger, abbot of Saint-Denis. We will conclude our study by showing what post-Freudians did with the verticality of Freudian sublimation, and what the art historian Worringer (1967 [1927]), did with Gothic verticality.

Between Phallic Façade and Discrete Euphoria: Freud on Fore-pleasure in Jokes and the Three Essays

In 1905 Freud published Three essays on the theory of sexuality and Jokes and their relation to the unconscious. He wrote these two works simultaneously. According to Ernest Jones, “Freud kept the manuscript of each on two adjoining tables and wrote now on one and now on the other as the mood took him” (Jones, 1964: 315). But, while Three essays has become one of the classics of psychoanalysis, Jokes has often been considered as a philosophical diversion in the margin of Freud’s serious work. Freud himself seems to have been of this opinion because, while he added new insights and revised many passages in all the later editions of Three essays and the other early classics, The interpretation of dreams (1900) and Psychopathology of everyday life (1901), there are no important additions or changes in the later editions of Jokes. These different vicissitudes have obscured the thematic affinities between Jokes and the first edition of Three essays. Therefore, a combined reading of Jokes and Three essays may shed new light on Freud’s early theory of sexuality.

The Joke and its Relation to the Unconscious: Freud’s Footnote to the Interpretation of Dreams

This article, part of a broader research agenda on the link between psychoanalysis and Witz, presents a study of the reception of The Joke and its Relation to the Unconscious within Freud’s own work. In contrast to the numerous references that can be found in the work of Lacan, the number of references in Freud’s own work to The Joke can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Starting with The Joke and its Relation to the Unconscious itself, a closer look is taken at a letter from Freud to Fliess, at a footnote in The Interpretation of Dreams, and finally at a passage within The Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. A comparison of these different passages shows that The Joke not only was generated from a footnote but even as a book always stayed a kind of elaborated footnote in the margin of Freud’s work. It is argued that the reason for this can be found in Freud’s later insight that critique against psychoanalysis in most cases is a kind of resistance that cannot be broken by means of books but only by analysis itself.

A New Paradigm: Dream Interpretation in the Footsteps of Bion

In contrast to Freud’s theory that dream-work is necessary to disguise unconscious wishes, Bion conceives of dreaming as a filter that sorts, categorizes, and prioritizes emotional facts that are stimulated by sensory input. First, emotional experiences must be rendered capable of being dreamt. Bion equates dreaming with unconscious waking thought and with reverie. Psychotics are not able to dream; they have visual experiences during sleep, nightmares and nocturnal hallucinations which are of a different character. Bion conceives a dream as a special mode of thinking as well as a specific stage in the development of thought. A dream is an ephemeral conjunction of elements, only existing for a short time and rapidly disintegrating in loose elements. It is also the result of a series of transformation processes. After 1970, Bion advocates a new technique of dream interpretation: the analyst must dream the clinical situation. In this model the analysis of countertransference dreams is equally as important as the analysis of the patient’s dreams.