Toward a Psychoanalytic Theory of the Subject
Discovering the duality of the subject was a breakthrough, because it became obvious and an accepted fact that the subject is not an ontological entity, but a fusion of what we could notice of him and something else that is only ‘indirectly’ assumed to be there. The subject embodies an active counterpart that it is unconscious to him, but displays its presence to the “other”, but only partially concealed and partially unfathomable. Thus, duality was a great leap in our view of the human subject but did not offer something of theoretical value, because it was understandable. Two things needed to be explored: are the dual components linked or they exist independent of each other? Whatever the answer is it is till of great importance to know how they coexist in the same subject.
The contribution of German idealist metaphysics advanced the European culture in all its endeavours. Many thinkers joined the philosophers in advancing the modern western civilization as whole, and creating a general movement of enlightenment, which was most evident in France (1730–1800). It spread throughout Europe. It introduced two major enlightening notions to the issue of the subject’s duality, which allowed a shift in the attitude toward that duality. The ﬁrst enlightenment was that the subject’s reason is his exclusive means of comprehending the world around him, and that it is his alone, although it may have some commonality with the reasoning of others. This means that if we are to understand anything about the dual existence of the subject, we have to ﬁnd a way to ask him to explain it to us. But how can he deduce what is unconscious from consciousness? How can he transcend the consciousness of the self when the self is partly unconscious?
The second enlightenment was that the causes of events are inherent in the events themselves, and the aﬀairs of the subject contain their explanations. Searching for external eﬀects to explain the manifestation of the subject misleads and produce false explanations and comprehension of the human act. As Foucault underline, (1970) the rules of a game are part of the game itself and are not added to it from another source. Thus, the duality of the subject’s went through a major change in the age of enlightenment: the subject’s duality is longer accepted as a split within the subject with no comprehendible cause or possible natural bridging or potential resolution. It became a concept that stands for a partition that is a constituent of human nature, without which the subject would be an entity without quality, or ate best an entity with two different qualities. Thus, the subject has to have an-other lodged in him for both to be his self. That other is neither hidden, nor under, nor behind, but entwined with his other part. The other in the subject is a double that is neither expressing himself in the common language of communication nor making himself understood by any known means. Although the other is “there,” he does not seem to aﬀect anything around him, and seems to be protected from being aﬀected by external eﬀects either. nevertheless, his presence is impossible to ignore because he is an integral part of everything the subject projects. Because the other was (is) not amenable to reﬂection, thus it is not material for ordinary thinking; it was denoted as the unconscious, the nominal, and the transcendental. The gap between the subject and his counterpart led to a gradual change in understanding that “Other”. The diﬀerent philosophers who previously dealt with the counterpart as the Other in the subject named it diﬀerently. It was the hidden (Fichte), the subject in himself (Hegel), the alienated subject (Marx), the unconscious will (Schopenhauer), the implicit (Husserl), and the subject of reﬂection (Bergeson).
Laplanche (1997) said, “Western philosophy, which can be encompassed by the general term ‘philosophy of the subject,’ has always stumbled over the problem of the other. For it, the otherness of the external world has always appeared doubtful, problematic, having to be deduced solely from the evidence of subjectivity… Western culture and its philosophy is the culture of the “subject,” though its apparent interest has been in the subject as an object. The other in it is an object for the subject. However, the subject is an other to himself too (p. 653).
With the subject being a duality and the duality being antithetical nature a new concept- the counterpart- appeared to account for the puzzlement about duality. The counterpart is a concept that better suited the changes introduced by the two propositions of the Enlightenment. The counterpart meant that human duality is not the coexistence of an- other within the subject, but rather the self is a unity of an enwrapped antithesis. The proposition that the subject can rely on his subjective reasoning to learn was instrumental in creating a novel interest in the properties of human reasoning-its soundness, limitations, normalcy, and abnormality-and inadvertently led to curiosity about the function of the counterpart in that reasoning. Psychology was born as an independent science of reason (consciousness), and introspective endeavors moved gradually to the center of the studies in that ﬁeld (Wundt, 1876). Introspection occupied a formal place in science, a place that had previously been the province of the transcendental ego. However, introspection did not provide any substantial additional insights into the nature of the counterpart. Understanding the counterpart posed a problem: the subject cannot be reached by introspection and the Other does not speak the same language the counterpart speaks.
The second proposition that causes are contained within their eﬀects has changed the strategy of diagnosis in the ﬁeld of psychopathology. In the beginning, mental disorders were ascribed to external causes such as bad spirits, evil eyes, the devil, or even to unexplainable causes such as God’s will. Pinel (1740–1826) broke the chains of the patients in the Salpêtrière hospital and refused to consider them victims of evil spirits. Hence, psychical disorders were considered diseases, i.e., their causes should be found within the diseases like all other medical conditions. Physicians resorted to treating the neuroses and psychoses as deﬁciencies or overabundances of certain biophysical elements. The advancements in “scientiﬁc” medicine based on research, anatomy, physiology, and some supportive branches put the unconscious ﬁrmly in the place of the counterpart. It took a very short time for the enlighten psychiatrists in France to discover hypnotism and reach the unconscious almost by accident; the accident of making a calculated hypothesis that it might be what characterizes the counterpart of the subject. The counterpart was not only unconscious but was the unconscious of that particular patient.
The Counterpart and the Particularity of Psychoanalysis:
Based on several details in the evolution of the concept of the counterpart I mean by the exitance of counterpart the emergence of antithetical poles from any of the attributes that constitute an evolving state in the human subject [I intend to revisit this idea later to shoe its validity from the analysts’ clinical work. The counterpart is an operational duality that allows the exploration of the issue at hand, as is the case of the mental function and its duality of conscious/unconscious. I want to highlight and underline something extremely Freudian in Freud’s discovery of psychoanalysis: did not, create a polarity of two attributes of different qualitative origins in any of his works for the duration of continued modifications of his theory, except for a short time when he suggested a polarity between the ego and the repressed [1920, p. 19], or when he used the conscious, as a certainty to prove the existence of the unconscious which was not yet considered then as a certainty (1915).
By the end of the nineteenth century German Idealistic Metaphysics entered a phase of gradual decline, which led to the birth of the scientiﬁc method, both in physics and in the humanities. Freud’s thinking proves that it was a legitimate child of the German idealist metaphysics. His whole text is variations on the theme of duality, in every aspect of his formulations. Ricoeur (1970) said, “A reader familiar with Hegelianism [the philosophy of dialects] cannot but help noticing the constant use of opposition in the structure of Freud’s concepts [which are consistently dichotomous]. It is true that dichotomy is not necessarily a dialectic, and that in each instance the dichotomy has a different sense. But his [Freud’s] style of opposition is intimately involved in the birth of meaning; the dichotomy is already dialectical” (p. 475). The new polarity of the subject and his counterpart revealed a dialectical relationship between the subject’s positivistic status as a subject of study and his tendency to transcend the positivistic case and undo it. The problem of the counterpart changed from a purely metaphysical problem to a problem that had to be sorted out ﬁrst within a polarity of physical sciences and human sciences. Capturing the subject in positivist states was a dream of scientists, while facilitating his transcendence of being became a psychoanalytic and ethnological endeavor. Foucault (1970) made an important remark about that polarity when he said, “In relation to the ‘subject of sciences,’ psychoanalysis and ethnology are rather ‘counter-sciences’; which does not mean that they are less ‘rational’ or ‘objective’ than the others, but that they ﬂow in the opposite direction, that they lead them back to their epistemological basis, and they ceaselessly ‘unmake’ that very subject who is creating and re-creating his positivity in the human science” (p. 379). Western culture reached an impasse in regard to the nature of the subject and then in how to understand him. Psychology was promising some serious formulations of the laws behind the subject’s behavior, cognition, and emotions and provided some facts about those aspects. But the counterpart, although there was no denying of its existence, was not amenable to the same methods of psychological study. There was nothing promising on the horizon that could have guided the thinkers to something they might have used to cross the abyss or bridge the gap between the endeavors “metapsychology” because psychologists intended -even then-to go beyond empirical psychology that had to be founded on empirical ﬁnding. It is important to bring to attention something that psychoanalysis is suffering from nowadays. Somehow, analysts are treating the counterpart (the unconscious Other) the same way they treat consciousness; i.e. as positivistic entity, and they interpret the primary process as distortions of the secondary process. The unintentional neglect that the counterpart is not repressed consciousness makes them keep seeing, working, formulating psychical phenomena as if the subject is a duality of similar though conflicting psychical entities, while the counterpart forces the issue that psychoanalysis is analysis of a dialectical link between an object-tive and a sub-jective entities.
Another feature in Freud’s thinking-taken from Germain metaphysics is the place he gave to the process of mental representation of whatever is physical, in the mind. This notion is -for the meticulous thinker- the origin of duality in western thinking. The notion that representation creates ideas (see Fichte’s and Schopenhauer’s representations of the unconscious) has become very important in Freud’s classical theory of psychoanalysis (thing presentation and word presentation). In addition to notion of representation, the concept of the Ich as a structure was sometimes considered the antithesis of the subject’s positivistic identity and his transcendental counterpart.
The idea of making the counterpart speak to the subject or even to another in his surroundings was far from being a viable idea. Western culture was waiting for an intuition that would make the counterpart talk and define itself. It was time for a qualitative change in understanding the riddle of the subject. Which of the two scientiﬁc approaches was going to give Western culture the intuition that could make the counterpart talk and deﬁne itself? Was the answer going to come from the positivistic physical sciences, or was it still going to come from the human interpretative sciences? Einstein once said, “All great achievements of science must start from intuitive knowledge, namely, in axioms, from which deductions are then made…Intuition is the necessary condition for discovery of such axioms” (cited in Calaprice, 2000, p. 287).
It was Freud’s destiny to get the intuition that made the counterpart talk, deﬁne itself, and still maintain its dual property as a subject of transcendence and an object of study. What I think is most curious, intriguing, and signiﬁcant is that his intuition should have come from his work as a physician and psychotherapist buy it came from an unusual interest of his that was unrelated to his work. In other words, Freud was out there to discover a cure for the neurosis, which put him the camp of the nomothetic science of neurology and its medical application. Yet, when it came to him—the physician—from his interest (hobby) in dreams, which were not considered, in any way, a topic in the nomothetic sciences. Freud’s research and practice during the hypnosis period brought him close the splitting of consciousness and the formation of the unconscious source of psychoneuroses, the role of trauma and the notion of arrested aﬀect associated with the repressed. He did not see in all that anything that could lead to a theory of psychoanalysis. But, he uncovered in the area of dreams, parapraxes and jokes a second and quite diﬀerent language that the counterpart uses to speak in those three phenomena. Freud (1900) wrote of that intuition (in the preface to the third English edition of The Interpretation of Dreams), “Insight such as this falls to one’s lot but once in a lifetime” (p. XXVII).
He was impressed, for a short while, by the splitting of consciousness; he believed that hypnosis revealed that part of consciousness that had been repudiated and caused the pathological condition. However, we notice in his contributions in the Studies on Hysteria (1895b), compared with Breuer’s cases, that he was attentive and sensitive to the patients’ whole stories more than the direct links between the retrieved memories and the symptoms. He was also able to read more in the symptoms than what was manifestly expressed. In the case of Fräulein Elisabeth von R., he commented on one of her symptoms by saying, “I could not help thinking that the patient had done nothing more or less than look for a symbolic expression of her painful thoughts and that she had found it in the intensiﬁcation of her suﬀerings” (1895b, p. 152). He even presented a whole case (Katharina) in which he did not use hypnosis to reconstruct the patient’s sexual trauma and relied completely on a brief encounter with her. He mentioned in his presentation of the case history that “[it] is not so much an analysed case of hysteria as a case solved by guessing” (1895, p. 133; italics added).
This step led him to make a very valuable distinction between the manifest and the latent, which replaced the futile cause/eﬀect dichotomy and overcame the limitations of the split of consciousness and the formation of an unconscious content. Freud ignored the signiﬁcance of the discernment of the manifest/latent connection until he got the intuition that it is the psychoneurosis that does the splitting of consciousness and not the splitting of consciousness that causes the neurosis. In other words, what had been considered the cause of the psychoneuroses was found to be, in fact, its eﬀect. Freud was not in any way prepared, trained, or advised to think about what was to come after the hypnosis stage. But it should be emphasized that the medical preoccupation with the limitations of the transcendence of consciousness-the way consciousness could become sick, its failure to keep the unconscious under control, and the derangement of the mind-led to studying the counterpart in a way quite diﬀerent from the philosophers’ approach.
Freud realised very early that there no conscious events that does not have an unconscious counterpart. Therefor, psychoanalysis has to be considered not a theory of psychotherapy or psychopathology, but a theory of the human subject who is a formation of antitheses that are responsible for his sickness and health. This is not a different way of saying things; it is saying different things about the subject.