CLINIC AND CRITIQUE OF PATRIARCHY
The Return of Patriarchy
The theme of patriarchy went in disuse for a while, but is now coming back with renewed strength and is even held responsible for contemporary malaise. It has resurfaced in studies that are coming to us from American universities, and that are been echoed by the media as well. It is also heard in the discourse of analysands, and from this clinical angle we will approach this question, before broadening it up to current societal issues.
As a social, cultural and economic system built for the domination and exploitation of women by men, of racial, class or gender minorities by the white, colonialist, bourgeois and heteronormative majority, patriarchy faces at the same time feminist struggles, woke ideologies and the activism of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Since its invention by Freud, psychoanalysis has participated in challenging the patriarchal order, but would now be, paradoxically, accused of helping it last by placing the father at the centre of human subjectivity. Lacan had pointed this out in 1971—it was the second wave of feminism—, the myth of Oedipus would seem to found some sort of reflection of patriarchy.(1)
The Lack of the Father
Yet, as early as The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud describes the potestas of the father as being "antiquated."(2) And Lacan, already in Family Complexes, relates the very arising of psychoanalysis to the decline of the father, whose personality is “always lacking […], absent or humiliated, divided or a sham.”(3)
The figure of the almighty, jealous and enjoying father who keeps all the women for himself is solely to be found at the level of the myth that Freud invented with Totem and Taboo(4), a dead father, moreover who is killed by his sons. From then on, they will only be able to transmit a sin and the veneration of the totem in which to locate the omnipotence of the dead father. Freud saw this as the origin of religion and the figure of an eternal God, God the father.(5)
Lacan maintained this fundamental fault of the father throughout his teaching, for only on this condition can the father limit and civilise jouissance as to give access to desire, that is, to transmit castration. In deciphering the elementary structures of kinship, Claude Lévi-Strauss formalised what Freud had discovered with the Oedipus complex as the vector of the fundamental and universal law of the prohibition of incest.
The decline of the father was elaborated in diverse ways by Lacan in the course of his teaching. From the lack of power linked to the imago, it was reduced to being a signifier, the Name-of-the-Father—which was at first the guarantor of the symbolic order, then took on the status of a fiction, of a semblance that plugs the hole of the symbolic, and was finally pluralised as it became a purely logical function, that of the exception.
The Maladies of the Father
In the time of the discourse of science and capitalism, overwhelmed as he is by objects of consumption that saturate lack and impede castration, what can we demand of the father? How can he wow us again?(6) By transmitting in a middle non-spoken(7) Lacan will say, the way in which he deals with jouissance in the link to his partner. This version of the father that responds to the fact that there is no written relation between the sexes is always symptomatic.
Thus, Oedipus does not give access to any normality but rather produces neuroses. These are the maladies of the father—phobia, hysteria and obsessional neurosis with their litanies of symptoms. If a father takes himself for the father, the one who has a rule for everything, without a fault; if he wants to equal himself to the Name, in serving a universal and disembodied ideal, he falls into imposture by excluding "the Name-of-the-Father from its position in the signifier"(8) —it is then its foreclosure.
Without the Symbolic
The civilising lack that the father carries with him —his own castration— and which he transmits as lack is therefore fundamental. But if it is rejected, refused or denied, then the father’s power can come back as violence, without entering the symbolic. Indeed, there are also “the sins of patriarchy.”(9) Let’s consider masculinism, harassment, sexual abuse or even feminicide. They go alongside the father who clings to the fixity of his jouissance, and crosses the barrier of shame [pudeur(10)] to reach the unbearable real.(11)
At a societal level, reactions to the decline of the father are also becoming increasingly harsh. Religious movements are radicalising. Women's rights are being trampled upon in some Islamic regions. But in our Western societies too, for example, in the name of religion, women who have been raped are denied abortion. Also, in the “greatest democracy in the world”, this right which has been acquired for almost fifty years is abolished.
Patriarchal-looking populist leaders that increase the ferocity of the superego, while placing themselves outside the law, endanger the very foundations of democracies. Some autocrats nostalgic for lost empires do not hesitate to drag countries into war, causing death, exodus and desolation.
As early as 1968, Lacan predicted that "the trace, the scar of the evaporation of the father […] [produces] a ramified, reinforced segregation, overlapping at all levels, which only multiplies the barriers."(12) In this fight, a legitimate one, against injustices concerning race, gender or social status, there is a paradox. While it is meant to be inclusive, it is clear that there is a turning point.(13) Discourses in the name of the good take a vehement and intolerant turn without any possible dialectic. A veritable language police is being set up whereby everyone watches everyone else, and everyone cries foul as soon as a statement is deemed not to correspond to the standards arbitrarily decided by self-proclaimed groups.
Beyond the pluralisation of the father, his evaporation, his pulverisation—according to J. A. Miller's expression—produces innumerable signifiers of identity which constitute communities that try to impose themselves on all the others. The struggle against patriarchy, while it could bring people together, on the contrary causes segregation.
What Can Psychoanalysis Do?
At a time when ideological discourses are clashing, J. A. Miller points out that it is important to not forget the suffering that the decline of the symbolic order can cause for each subject, one by one.(14) While, as he said, it is difficult to debate with a desire—for example of trans-identity, since in this respect there is no right or wrong—, it is from the clinic that psychoanalysis can take action. Of what is patriarchy the name for each one, singularly? What is it that constitutes a hole, a trauma for a subject? How does it write a programme of jouissance that is at the same time singular and extimate to the subject? How does a subject cobble together a symptom, what knotting can be built as to allow to respond of the real?
To be able to rise to the occasion as an addressee, the psychoanalyst, the practitioner, whether in a practice or an institution, has to incarnate an object “surprisingly versatile, receptive and […] multi-functional […], to want nothing a priori for the good of the other, to be without prejudice as regards the good use which can be made of him […]. For that, he must have cultivated his docility to the point where he knows how to occupy the place from which he can act for any subject.”(15) This will be the challenge of the PIPOL 11 Congress Clinic and Critique of Patriarchy.
Director, Congress PIPOL 11
EuroFederation of Psychanalysis
1. Lacan J., Le Séminaire, livre XVIII, D’un discours qui ne serait pas du semblant, text established by J. A. Miller, Paris, Seuil, 2006, p. 173.
2. Freud S., The Interpretation of Dreams, SE, Vol. IV (1900), p. 257.
3. Lacan J, “Family Complexes in the formation of the individual”, 1938, Trans. C. Gallagher, School of Psychotherapy St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin 4, p. 56.
4. Freud S., Totem and Taboo, SE, Vol. XIII (1913-1914).
5. Cf. ibid., p. 154-155.
6. Cf. Lacan J., The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XIX, …or Worse, edit. J. A. Miller, trans. A.R. Price, Cambridge/Medford, MA, Polity Press, 2018, p. 184.
7. Cf. Lacan J., “Seminar of 21 January 1975”, in Feminine Sexuality: Lacan and the École freudienne, eds. J. Mitchell & J. Rose, trans. J. Rose, London/New York, W.W. Norton, 1985, p. 167.
8. Lacan J., “On a Question Prior to any Possible Treatment of Psychosis,” Écrits, trans. B. Fink, London/New York, W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 2006, p. 483.
9. Cf. Miller J.-A., « Conversation d’actualité avec l’Ecole espagnole du Champ freudien, 2 mai 2021 (I) », La Cause du désir, n°108, juillet 2021, p. 54. Also available online,
Presentación de Polémica Política, de Jacques-Alain Miller. Conversación de actualidad con la ELP – YouTube, [2:10:42] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGfsFPRySnk.
10. Cf. Lacan J, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book VI, Desire and its Interpretation, edit. J. A. Miller, trans, B. Fink, Cambridge/Medford, Polity Press, 2019, p. 413.
11. Cf. Miller J.A., « Nous n’en pouvons plus du père ! », La Règle du jeu, available online, https://laregledujeu.org/2013/04/26/13161/nous-nen-pouvons-plus-du-pere.
12. Lacan J., Note on the Father and Universalism, trans. R. Grigg, The Lacanian ReviewNo. 3; April 1st, 2017; p. 10.
13. Cf. Miller. J.-A., “Conversation d'actualité… ”, op. cit., p. 54, and [2:11:11].
14. Cf. ibid.
15. Miller J.-A., “Contraindications to Psychoanalytical Treatment,” trans. B. Wolf, Psychoanalytical Notebooks 4, 2000: Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis, p. 4.
Available online Miller-Jacques-Alain_Contraindications-to-Psychoanalytical-Treatment.pdf (londonsociety-nls.org.uk) https://londonsociety-nls.org.uk/Publications/psychoanalytical-notebooks/004/Miller-Jacques-Alain_Contraindications-to-Psychoanalytical-Treatment.pdf
Translation: Caroline Heanue
Proofreading: Alejandro Sessa