This article gives a rough sketch of psychoanalysis as part of modern culture (modernity) and as participating in the problematic of modern culture (modernity). It starts from the present day lack of interest in psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is minimally defined by its concern for human experience, dividedness and conflict and for the maintenance of a lack. Present day culture can be described by a prevalence of instrumentalism, narcissism and the practice of a culture of immediacy. It can be interpreted in a one-sided way as an actualisation of modernity. Modernity is not characterized by instrumentality alone but also by the importance of the dimension of subjectivity (experience, conflict and lack). The actual relevance of psychoanalysis might be found in the way psychoanalysis reminds present day culture of its own one-sidedness in relation to modernity.
Since Freud, psychoanalysis has recognised in mythology its own double: mythology as a discourse that gives voice, albeit encrypted, to the unconscious. In this relationship, psychoanalysis sometimes saw itself in the role of disciple, but more often and more eagerly took the role of master. This is why the original creative exchange between the two has often been reduced to more sterile, more simplistic relationships. Robert Eisner has pointed out how psychoanalysis has tended to narrow down mythical narratives to restrictive, authoritarian moulds that tend to impede, rather than to create, new meanings and possibilities. This paper sets out to demonstrate how lacanian psychoanalysis could pave the way for an alternative, more fertile approach to myth. Although Lacan, in contrast with Freud and Jung, is rarely mentioned in relation to myth, the study of mythology has played a major role in his ‘return to Freud’. It was only by drawing inspiration from the structural myth analysis of Lévi-Strauss that he conceived of the unconscious as a linguistic web, the symbolic connections of which had to be analysed and spun out rather than ‘understood’. Lacan approaches myth as he approaches the speech of the analytic patient: not as a secret to be pried open by a master, but as a network of relations, clustered around an ‘impossibility’ that asks to be explored. By engaging in the dialogue on equal terms, and by daring to acknowledge the ‘mythical’ status of psychoanalysis, Lacan breaks through the mirror between myth and psychoanalysis.