Dylan Evans, who wrote the previously mentioned piece on Utopia, is, it turns out, a former Lacanian psychoanalyst who became disillusioned with Lacanianism, and with psychoanalysis generally. He has a chapter, From Lacan to Darwin [pdf], forthcoming in Literature and the Human Animal [eds. David Sloan Wilson and Jonathan Gottschall, Evanston: Northwestern University Press]. This chapter is a fascinating account of the Lacanian movement from the inside. He discusses the attractions of Lacan to many of us: his claim to develop a linguistic basis for psychoanalysis, bridging psychoanalysis and cognitive science; his concept of the “mirror phase,” which views human infant development in comparison to chimpanzee development; his view of the sense of self as based on illusion, a result of alienation; and his apparently erudite drawing upon much of the western philosophical and literary traditions. Further, like many attracted to Lacanian theory, Evans had no prior experience with psychoanalysis.
Unlike many Lacanians, Evans sought to clarify and comprehend Lacan’s thought, resulting in the publication of An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis. Along the way, Evans discovered that Lacan’s concepts were not clear. Further, most Lacanians viewed the obscure nature of these concepts as a strength, not a weakness. Lacan was to be accepted as a genius and guru to be followed and absorbed whole, rather than studied and critiqued as a thinker whose thought is to examined for the degree to which it represents reality accurately and the extent to which it stimulates other productive ideas. Data, Evans came to realize, was irrelevant to most Lacanians. The texts were to be studied as is the Talmud, with hope that one would be experience enough grace to comprehend.
Meanwhile, Evans found that Lacan’s theory did not advance his clinical practice. Whenever his interventions were based on Lacan, they failed to help. When they were based on a common sense attempt to understand and accept the patient, they were more likely to be helpful. Eventually Evans came to renounce psychoanalysis and, indeed, all psychotherapy, turning instead to the intersection of evolutionary psychology, cognitive science, and, ultimately, robotics. I, perhaps defensively, would claim that his few years as an actual therapist were, perhaps, not enough to really judge the quality and nature of the profession.
Evans does not discuss his renunciation of psychoanalysis in general in this chapter. In fact, it is not clear that he has had much experience with non-Lacanian analysis. Many of his insights into the Lacanian phenomena and this community’s antipathy to data is relevant to other psychoanalytic “schools.” Yet, increasingly, psychoanalysts have become more open to nonpsychoanalytic thought, and to empirical research. While I share much of his concern with the quality of the empirical base for many psychoanalytic claims, I find much in psychoanalysis worth retaining. Perhaps some day a truly modern psychology will supersede psychoanalysis. But not yet, I would argue. I also would claim that his few years as an actual therapist were, perhaps, not enough to really judge the quality and nature of the profession.
In any case, his account of Lacanianism from the inside seems fair and well worth reading. I have met “Lacanians” who have uttered critical thoughts in private, but no one, to my knowledge has written such an account. He truly seems to want to explain himself to Lacanians, not simply to denounce them. Will he succeed? I doubt it. But, perhaps he will help others with silent reservations to cease suppressing them. And, perhaps, he can aid other psychoanalysts to recognize the dangers of theory without clarity and without a concern for its base in evidence. Psychoanalysis without critical thinking and without empirical research may, indeed, become that dead end he thinks it is.
3 comments October 30th, 2005