Why reconstruct your history?

How do past events increase our suffering? Without owning a TARDIS how could we improve the present by changing the past?

In the first few sections of Lacan’s seminar 1, Freud’s Papers on Technique 1953-1954 Lacan makes a rather directive statement about what psychoanalysis is:

“The essence, the basis, the dimension proper to analysis is the reintegration by the subject of his history right up to the furthermost perceptible limits”

It is worth being clear about what we mean by history and reintegration:

“History is not the past. History is the past in so far as it is historicised in the present – historicized in the present because it was lived in the past.”

Lacan is working with Buddhist and Quantum theory here to put forward the argument that there is no past (or future) all we have is now. The ‘past’ is in the present as we re-work, recall and discuss it in the present. An objective history is nowhere to be found. Twenty people can be involved in the same car accident and all have different opinions and memories about it. They will all attribute different meanings to the same event.

So what would a reintegration of a subjective history look like? Reintegration brings to mind a restoration or re-working, an improving-upon. Replacing one meaning for another, returning back to an event to construct a new meaning.

An example:

At school sports day you hear just before a race from an older child “If you can’t win a kids race you cant do anything”, you then finish near to last. There can be an assimilation of this belief into one’s life, sometimes we will remember it, other times not. Often we don’t question the event or the meaning we have given it. Perhaps we feel a sense of shame, it adds to the lingering sense of failure that pervades our lives . We are perceiving this particular piece of our history together with the meaning we gave to the event at that time.

It is of no importance that one remembers “exactly what happened” or “the truth of the matter”, Lacan is saying that what matters is what one makes of these events, what meaning is attributed to them and how we go about reconstructing this meaning and reintegrating ourselves into our subjective history.

“When all is said and done it is less a matter of remembering rather than re-writing history.”

Psychoanalysis can be a place to explore these memories, the meaning we have given to events, to reconstruct this history and to question our past – did I really fail? does this failure mean I am doomed to not achieve anything in the future? If we are given the time and space to question our past we open the door to create new meaning.

Normality from psychology to Lacan

The human sciences have provided a discourse of normal vs abnormal to discuss our inner worlds.

This discourse has created a pathological approach to subjectivity by influencing us towards a medicalised view of the human condition. It proclaims that at the root of human suffering are psychological problems that are treatable, either by therapy, medication or self-help techniques. The belief that there is an objective measure of “normal” that we should all be achieving fundamentally encapsulates what it means to be a human in the 21st century. There is very little space outside of this normal/abnormal dichotomy for a human trait or behaviour that isn’t ubiquitous.

We are able to discuss emotions and thoughts with an ease not afforded to older generations. Campaigns to reduce mental health stigma have had a significant impact on how we discuss subjectivity. Our new-found ability to talk about suffering is a positive change, unfortunately this change coincides with pathologising language. The influence of this medicalised discourse can be seen in our use of words like ‘crazy’,’unhinged’ and ‘mental health’, it seems to suppress the subtle nuances of trying to put into words what it is to be human and replaces it with the term “it’s a severe mental illness”.

We can talk about personal growth and empowerment, about being inspired and fulfilled. There is a belief that we could all undertake some sort of journey to achieve the ultimate goal of normality. A normality where worry and anxiety don’t really exist, a normality where we are able to work and enjoy, within a vacuum, fitting in and being self-reliant. We seek masters to tell us what to do and how to do it. Treatments and techniques to rid us of our problems.

What about an alternative?

One of the things that appeals about Lacanian diagnostics is the complete absence of a ‘normal’ clinical structure, there is no position of ‘mental health’. With Lacan you are either psychotic, neurotic or perverse. Any ideas of cohesive, sane, rational people are phantasms, as all subjects are split subjects. We lack. Contrary to most ego-centric ideas there is no solid self to be found underlying everything and ‘running the show’, if we just keep looking, we won’t find it. We are alienated by language, within inter-subjectivity we can have beliefs about ourselves, a conscious ego, but that is not a cohesive subject, it is not a Cartesian subject.

“When we choose thought we lose being” Tony Myers

Therapy culture can attempt to try to strengthen the ego, as if an ego free of lack is a normal and healthy one. We can seek masters that can empower us towards completeness and the ‘rational standard’. We can judge ourselves for our ‘psychological problems’ and weirdness. Or we can accept that we lack and that normality does not exist. There are very few places that can allow us to explore this and act as a vehicle towards that acceptance, but paradoxically certain types of therapy can be one of those places. Just don’t expect to find a master that does not lack