NLS Minute 4


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Ordinary Psychosis and Addiction in the Postmodern Era

Thomas Svolos

United States


Starting from the premise that we are in a new social era, which we can call postmodernism, we can observe two major clinical phenomena. It was psychoanalysis that formulated the first major phenomenon with the name, from J.-A. Miller in 1998, of ordinary psychosis. I would observe that the other social and psychiatric fields don’t know what to say about this – books on things like the manic world of today, and the NIMH researchers and clinicians are arguing about psychiatric diagnosis. Psychoanalysis, in contrast, has worked for 20 years now with ordinary psychosis, putting it to use as a concrete response to what we find in the analytic experience.

The second major clinical phenomenon is addiction – whose importance is no doubt recognized in the social field, the psychiatric field and in psychoanalysis.

So, I pose a question: what, if any, relationship or connection exists between these two different clinical phenomena in our current social era? My wager here is that one answer to this question might be developed following Lacan’s graph of sexuation.

I would start with an observation from the upper half of the graphs. I argue that we can characterize the pre-postmodern era as falling within a masculine position. The paternal imago was strong and the world was phallicized. All of x was under the function of the phallus. Thus, this world was a realm of neurosis, in the classical sense. Then, of course, we have the exception. Now, much has been made in the exegesis of the graph of the position of the exception as the obscene father (from Freud). But, why not look at this position differently? The classical Lacanian notion of psychosis, of Schreberian psychosis, is yet another articulation of this position – an exceptional x that does not fall under the dominion of the phallus. Thus, we have a clinic with clear boundaries organized around the masculine position with regard to the sexual non-relation – a clinic of neurosis or exceptional psychosis, phallus or no phallus.

As for our postmodern era: this can be structured around the feminine position. We might start with the observation that there does not exist an x that is not subject to the phallic function, that is not signified. We might read this at a social level as the Marxist observation that there is no limit now to commodification and the extension of the value system that derives from capitalism to all domains of subjective experience (capital as limitless, all about flows, liquid, etc.). Or, at a subjective level, we might say that there is no longer the position or the fantasy of exception. But, the phallic function of all x is not complete, it is not all. And, here is where I suggest we might pinpoint both ordinary psychosis and addiction.

J.-A Miller identified three things for the clinician to look out for in ordinary psychosis: disturbance of the body (eg, the body event); disturbance in the social relation; or, a disturbance in the innermost sense of being. I suggest that these might be understood, in a sense, as an incomplete or not all functioning of the phallus with regard to the body (not fully mortified by discourse), social discourse (not fully organized by the phallus), or sense of being (the master signifier not fully in place). In contrast with the pre-postmodern masculine position, where it is all or nothing, here in the postmodern on the feminine side, it is a matter of not all, for all.

What is interesting to me is to think of what we might say about addiction in this context. One hypothesis, which I would propose, is that if ordinary psychosis is an articulation of the subjective position, addiction is the staging of a subject’s relation with the object a. And here we can go back to Miller's three themes, which are indeed three of the ways of addiction: for body effects, the experience of intoxication; for an effect in social relations – to act differently around others; or, to change one's innermost sense of being ("I only feel myself when I use" is a frequent refrain). For Lacan, addiction is defined as detachment from the phallus. But, for some, the detachment is not absolute or complete (though, I think we can in fact articulate a Schreberian addiction – da logic of addiction as exception), but not all for the ordinary psychotic. Thus, I suggest that, in the postmodern era, following the logic of the feminine position with regard to the sexual nonrelation, ordinary psychosis and addiction might in fact have this logical link.