Jamieson Webster is a psychoanalyst in private practice in New York City. She is the author of The Life and Death of Psychoanalysis (2011) and Conversion Disorder: Listening to the Body in Psychoanalysis (2018); she also co-wrote, with Simon Critchley, Stay, Illusion! The Hamlet Doctrine (2013). She teaches at the New School and supervises doctoral students in clinical psychology at the City University of New York. (November 2018)
Read anything about Lacan’s life and you will find it punctuated by stories about cars and driving. Both Lacan’s son-in-law, Jacques-Alain Miller, and his patient and lover Catherine Millot considered Lacan’s way of driving as part of his ethical stance: one had to follow one’s desire and not give way to inhibitions or norms. If one had to stop, make it a choice; do not yield to an anonymous law or the whims of the other’s demand. This is always the story that one encounters about Lacan, part of the mythology of the courageous, disobedient, relentless man. But after 1968, the car completely disappeared from his teaching—and in his late seminars, Lacan’s thinking changed direction.
Modern psychopharmacology goes hand in hand with a psychiatric diagnostic system that has, over time, been redefined to rely on medicating symptoms away rather than looking at the structure of the mind and its complex permutations in order to work with a patient in a deeply engaged way over the long haul. Modern psychiatry is hailed as a scientific success story, and drug companies have profited from the fact that talking therapies are often thought to take too long, their results frequently dismissed as unverifiable. I question, though, whether we should demand verified results when it comes to our mental life: Do you believe someone who promises you happiness in a pill?