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CLINICAL STUDY DAYS 15: ‘THE EMPIRE OF IMAGES’

Clinical Study Days 15: “The Empire of Images”
New York City
February 10-12, 2023

NPAP
40 West 13th Street
New York, NY 10011

Thomas Svolos

Images.  They are everywhere, and they surround us.  It used to be that, in the United States at least, one had to go to Times Square to be surrounded by images.  But, over the last century, we have built a society where screens with images are everywhere—first in cinemas, then televisions, and then video consoles and phones and glasses and watches and virtual reality headsets.

It is hard to imagine that this proliferation of images itself has not been a factor in the changed status of the image in various domains of our existence.

Take the human body, for example.  There is a focus on the image of the body, a wish to have the body take on a certain image.  For an example relevant to the city that will host Clinical Study Days 15: the May 15, 2022, issue of the New York Times Magazine, the “Health Issue,” was titled “Shape Shift: On Our Obsession with Modifying Our Bodies (1).”  This issue addressed practices that go beyond fashion, the veiling of the body, or inscriptions on the bodies (of tattoos) or piercings, to a survey of surgery practices to create a certain body image.  This is also, of course, an issue in the trans movement, the assertion that an identity as a certain gender should correlate with an ability to have a body image of a certain type.  

We see this expansion of the realm of images in other aspects of human experience as well.  In art, this might be the rise of the visual.  In postmodernity, photography has shifted its place from a minor art to a major art form (2).  We see as well, increasing numbers of videos in museum exhibitions.  And, it certainly seems to be the case that movies and television series, based on a combination of images and the word, have replaced novels and stories as the primary forms of narrative art.  The word or the text is no longer enough, and language now needs an image to go with it, to be linked or connected to the text in the narrative.  

This is equally true in social media.  Even in this relatively new realm of human experience, the older platforms of Facebook and even Twitter, that gave some privilege or at least parity to text and image, are replaced by more dominant forms that privilege the image over text, such as Snapchat, Instagram and Tik Tok.

But, what about a very different realm of human experience, such as politics?  Here too, we see a shift from the text to image.  For centuries, in the West, politics has been founded on (ideologically, at least) foundational texts, such as the Magna Carta or the Constitution.  These texts served as anchoring points for debate and discussion and the basis for the construction of political campaigns and legislative action.  We now see, on the right, a very different basis for the construction of politics, one based on the image in replacement theory.  This argument—that white, males are being replaced in Western countries—has been used, most recently in the Buffalo shooting, as the ideological justification for acts of violence, but has also been the basis for political campaigns, from Republican primaries in the United States to the most recent French presidential election.  A key dimension of this political phenomenon is the replacement of foundational texts as the basis of politics with an image, the image of the white male and the perceived threat from people with different images.  Of course, we might observe that it was the left that first constructed a politics based on identity and image.  The right simply outmaneuvered them on that approach.

So, we see the rise of the image in a range of social, artistic, and even political domains.  

But what about the image in psychoanalysis?  For Lacanians, a typical starting point is Lacan’s well-known formulation about the mirror stage and might also include another fundamental reference point—Lacan’s proposed addition (elaborated in detail in Seminar XI) of the scopic or visual object, the gaze, to the Freudian series of partial drive objects. (3)

But, let us start with a recollection from the founder of psychoanalysis of an encounter with an image over a century ago, which was interpreted further by Jacques-Alain Miller in a text that is foundational for our work for these Study Days, “The Sovereign Image (4).”  Sigmund Freud is in Athens, and he goes to visit the Acropolis—the encounter with the image of the temple shakes him up in a way that he remembers for the rest of his life.  Decades later, Freud describes the disbelief he felt at the sight of the Acropolis: a disbelief that the Acropolis really exists, a moment of derealization, that it is as remarkable and overwhelming as it is.  This encounter ultimately evokes a recollection of a jouissance, an excess that is linked to a prohibition related to the father.  This prohibition against a certain satisfaction evokes the father, and Miller comments on how, behind the reality of this image, one might find the gaze of the father (for Freud).  Miller further notes that also behind this image is the recognition by Freud that he is a tired, old man—and Freud’s own castration too figures in the impact of this encounter with the image.  It is a brilliant set of interpretations by Freud and Miller about the subjective encounter with an image and how the image proper links up with the libido or jouissance, a link organized around the father.

At the time of Freud and in early moments of Lacan’s work, the Name-of-the-Father (5) provided an anchor to the symbolic order and the symbolic order itself anchored, as it were, psychic reality, including that of images.  The symbolic was the structuring force and dominant over the imaginary (the realm of images).  In Lacan’s classical formulation of psychosis from the 1950s, in the paper in the Écrits, “On a Question Preliminary to Any Possible Treatment of Psychosis,” in Schema I, Lacan introduces a way of thinking about psychosis, one based on the foreclosure of the Name-of-the-Father.  But, equally important, another dimension of Lacan’s work here is, and you can see this in the Schema I, that in psychosis, not only is there a foreclosure of the Name-of-the-Father in the symbolic, but there is an absence of the phallus in the imaginary, which, at this moment of his work (the phallus means different things at different points in Lacan’s work), provides a type of anchoring point for the imaginary (what Miller calls a sovereign image).  It provides a stability around ego representations and identifications and the relationship with the body, and this is how Lacan developed his thinking about psychosis at this moment in his work (6).  

Now, however, we are in a new situation.  In this new Borromean clinic, there is a semi-autonomous character given to each of the orders—the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real.  No single element of the psyche stands as the anchoring point, as the Name-of-the-Father was in the past.  Instead, in this clinic, the analytic work is at least partly oriented around the elaboration of what Miller calls “connectors.(7)  

So, what do we have to say about the image today?  How might the experience of psychoanalysis inform our approach to the image today, to the impact of the image on the speaking being, and to the use of the image today by subjects?  

We propose several themes, described in greater or lesser detail below, as the rubrics through which we will approach the question of the image today in psychoanalysis in the clinical cases that we will present and discuss at Clinical Study Days 15.

We can draw a distinction between image and the new technology for the presentation of the image, the screen.  Is there some distinction between the image on the screen and more traditional presentations of the image.  What is the subjective experience of the relationship of the image and the screen?

Regarding the body as image: what do we find in the psychoanalytic experience about the image of the body?  If the phallus, at one point, provided an ordering to the imaginary realm, as noted above, what is the status of the body as image without that anchoring?  Or, without the determination in place with the Name-of-the-Father?  How, today, is the body as image articulated by speaking beings?  In what ways are these images constructed, without these anchoring points, and connected with other bodies?  What about the relationship of one’s own body with the body of the peer, the imaginary others?  What about this proliferation of body images in society—how does that come into play in the construction of the image of the body for the speaking being today?

Miller, in his paper on “The Sovereign Image,” identifies the body of the Other as another sovereign image for us.  This is the body as the site for castration, castration of the Other.  What is the status of the body of the Other today?  And, this indeed, raises the question of castration itself.  If, in the early Lacan, we find castration hypothesized as the symbolic lack of an imaginary object—what is the relevance of this formulation today?  What use can we make of this construction?  How do we find this at work, or not at work, in the analytic experience.

A reference was noted, above, to the issue of the gaze—the image of the Acropolis, for Freud, veiling the gaze of the father.  What might we have to say about the relationship of the image and the gaze?  How much is the image actually a factor in the gaze?  Even going back to the Sartrean prototype of the gaze, Sartre’s “look,” we might note that the visual field may not be at stake in the gaze.  As Sartre noted in the elaboration of the look in Being and Nothingness, “Of course what most often manifests a look is the convergence of two ocular globes in my direction. But the look will be given just as well on occasion when there is a rustling of branches, or the sound of a footstep followed by silence, or the slight opening of a shutter, or a light movement of a curtain (8).”  How much does the image of self come into play in the subjective constitution of the so-called “self” as the object of the Other’s gaze?  Or, might we find a sliding from the formulations of Lacan in Seminar XI on the gaze to the formulations of Miller regarding paranoia, as the primary form of the relationship of the ego (an imaginary constructs) with the Other (9)?  And, what of the relevance of this to the rise of paranoia and hatred in society today—a connection between these subjective and social phenomena?

In Seminar XXI, we find that Lacan will make some specifications about the domains of the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real—introducing the concept of consistency with regard to the Imaginary, the hole with regard to the symbolic, and existence with regard to the real.  If the imaginary—and images—provide consistency, what is the status of this today?  What does the analytic experience have to say about the consistency of the image in the subjective experience of life today?  Historically, technological image representations such as photography and video were seen as a kind of evidentiary truth, in contrast to an imaginary medium such as painting or drawing.  But, we are now in a world of deep fakes that disturbs the consistency of these forms of social image representations.  This issue of imaginary inconsistency aligns well with the phenomena not of deep fakes, but fake news.  In the post-Truth era, we find less consistency of the imaginary or symbolic.  What about in subjective experience?  What is status of consistency of images among speaking beings, be it self image or image of the other or image of the Other?  Is there an alignment of this change in the social realm with subjective experience?  And, what impact might this have on the act of the analyst in practice?  One simple guide point, historically, was that in the encounter with the rigidity of neurosis, one approach of the analyst was to shake up the ego, but that in psychosis, a general approach, given the fragility of the ego, of the analyst was to shore up the consistency of the ego.  Is there relevance of this today? 

Miller also proposes different operators, operators which act on the sovereign images, defined in his text as the image of one’s body, the body of the Other and the Phallus.  Miller identifies those operators as the mirror, the veil, and what he calls the frame or pedestal, but which we might also define, following Lacan’s work on Joyce, as the escabeau, the soapbox or stepladder (10).  How do we see these image operators in play in the analytic experience?

The imaginary has previously had an important role in the beginning of analysis, or in what we used to call the preliminary sessions.  People may present to analysis with various issues and concerns regarding their self-image or their identity.  Lacan’s signal early contribution to psychoanalysis, the mirror stage, provided analysts with some indications on the handling of the imaginary based on his earliest paradigm of psychoanalysis.  With a different, non-existent, Other to secure the image in our world today, what use or modification in use do we find regarding Lacan’s notion of the mirror stage today?  Indeed, how does the imaginary come into play in the beginning of a psychoanalytic experience today?

The fantasy was a key form of construction in the psychoanalytic clinic for years and remains in use today, even in the face of the newer Borromean clinic.  How does the image function in the fundamental fantasy?  Does the changed status of the image today have repercussions for the contemporary construction of fantasies?

Staying with the clinic, how does the image function in the Borromean clinic?  Lacan’s hypothesis about Joyce was constructed on the basis of a rupture in the imaginary ring—given its narrative demonstration in the famous episode in which Stephen is beaten by his classmates (we would call them bullies today) and has a sensation of losing his body, like a piece of fruit shedding its skin.  That break in the imaginary ring is sutured with an imaginary suppleance of Joyce’s ego (11).  With each of the realms having a semi-autonomous status, what does a rupture in the imaginary ring look like in the psychoanalytic clinic?  How might an image function in a rupture or have a role as suppleance, or compensatory make-believe, in this clinic? (12) Or, also within the Borromean clinic, in as much as the sinthome might connect the imaginary, symbolic, and realm, how is the imaginary implicated in the sinthome?  

We wish to explore these questions, and more, to see what the psychoanalytic experience has to say about the status of the image today.

1. New York Times Magazine, “The Health Issue: Shape Shift: On Our Obsession with Modifying Our Bodies,” May 15, 2022.
2. Fredric Jameson, “The Aesthetics of Singularity.” New Left Review, 92, March-April 2015, page 109.
3. Jacques Lacan, “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience.” Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English, New York, Norton, 2006, pages 75-81. Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (1972-1973), New York, Norton, 1977.
4. Sigmund Freud, “A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis: An Open Letter to Romain Rolland on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday.” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 22 (1915), pages 239-248. Jacques-Alain Miller, “The Sovereign Image.” The Lacanian Review, 5, pages 39-52.
5. Jacques Lacan, “On a Question Preliminary to Any Possible Treatment of Psychosis.” Écrits, Op. cit., pp. 445-488.
6. But, see Jacques-Alain Miller’s DEA Seminar from 1987-88 for an extended discussion of this logic of the Name-of-the-Father and the Phallus from Schema I and a new reading of that which prefigures the Borromean clinic. Some sessions have been published in English as Jacques-Alain Miller, “The Wolfman I.” Lacanian Ink, 35, 2010, pages 7-83, and Jacques-Alain Miller, “The Wolfman II.” Lacanian Ink, 36, 2010, pages 6-85.
7. Jacques-Alain Miller, “Six Paradigms of Jouissance.” Psychoanalytical Notebooks, 34, December 2019, pages 11-80.
8. Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology, Washington Square Press, 1992, page 346.
9. Jacques-Alain Miller, “Paranoia: A Primary Relation to the Other.” The Lacanian Review, 10, pp. 55-92.
10.Jacques Lacan, “Joyce the Symptom.” The Lacanian Review, 5, 2013, pages 13-18. Jacques-Alain Miller. “The unconscious and the Speaking Body.” in World Association of Psychoanalysis (Eds.), Scilicet: The Speaking Body. On the Unconscious in the 21st Century, Paris, NLS Publication, 2015, pp. 27–42.
11. Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book XXIII: The Sinthome (1975-1976), Cambridge, Polity, 2016, pages 123-138.
12.See Jacques-Alain Miller, “Ordinary Psychosis Revisited.” Psychoanalytical Notebooks, 26, 2013, pp. 33-50.

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CALL FOR PAPERS

The Scientific Committee of CSD15 invites you to propose a clinical case presentation dedicated to the theme, “The Empire of Images.”

Individuals who wish to submit a case presentation for consideration will need to first register for CSD15. Case presentations must address one of the following themes (as detailed in the text below):

• the image and the screen
• body as image
• body of the Other
• image and the gaze
• consistency of the image
• image operators in play in the analytic experience
• the imaginary in the beginning of a psychoanalytic experience today
• the image in the fundamental fantasy
• the image in the Borromean clinic
• the imaginary implicated in the sinthome
Case presentations should be a maximum of both 15 minutes long when read aloud and 9,000 characters (with spaces).

The submission deadline is November 1st., 2022.

We appreciate your interest and look forward to reading your papers and seeing you in New York.

Please send your text and any questions you may have to the CSD15 Scientific Committee at tsvolos@outlook.com

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SCIENTIFIC COMMITTEE

Chair:
Isolda Alvarez Arango
Jeff Erbe
Azeen Khan
Thomas Svolos, Chair
Karina Tenenbaum

CLINICAL STUDY DAYS (CSD) is the annual meeting presented by the Lacanian Compass. While each Study Days is dedicated to a particular subject, its feature presentations and discussions of clinical case work are done by psychoanalysts and other clinicians sharing the Lacanian approach. The papers presented involve institutional and private settings. The CSD are open to anyone interested in psychoanalysis.

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VENUE

NPAP
40 West 13th Street
New York, NY 10011

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WHY CLINICAL STUDY DAYS?

Jacques Lacan. Is there a name in psychoanalysis that gets such reaction? Such emotions of admiration, love, hatred, jealousy. But not only that, what he did put people to work: refashioning a psychoanalysis when Freud’s followers failed, but also a remarkable legacy of those who work against him.

Since 2005, psychoanalysts of the World Association of Psychoanalysis, working in the United States, have sponsored the Clinical Study Days. While Lacan was certainly a prodigious thinker in many fields, he was above all else a psychoanalyst. The CSD is an event for anyone interested in Lacan to gather and discuss clinical work in the orientation given by the teaching of Lacan and by Jacques-Alain Miller.

Indeed, if Lacan is our first point of orientation, Miller is our second. It was Miller who Lacan himself identified as the person who was able to read him, a notoriously difficult task. But, beyond that work in the realm of meaning, it was Miller who was able to do something with Lacan’s teaching and the work that Lacan left us, in all the institutional work led by Miller that has given the world the Schools of the World Association of Psychoanalysis. For it is these Schools that are the means by which psychoanalysis has passed from generation to generation through the formation of new psychoanalysts.

The CSD offers speakers and participants an opportunity to work together with psychoanalysts and is vital to the life of the School.