by Chase Dimock
As I write, the French parliament is embroiled in a protracted debate over President François Hollande’s push to legalize gay marriage and adoption in France. The controversy regarding the bill has swept through French society and the regular cast of conservative political and cultural interests such as the Catholic Church and the xenophobic right-wing parties has emerged in demonstrations against it. Yet, one unlikely voice of support for the bill came out last month as Jacques-Alain Miller, representing the psychoanalytic community, authored an op-ed in Le Point titled, “Non, la psychanalyse n’est pas contre le mariage gay”. I say this is “unlikely” not because it would be unexpected for a psychoanalyst to support lgbt rights, but because it is uncommon for psychoanalysis to weigh in on current political issues. In this article, Miller (who is Jacques Lacan’s son-in-law and one of the most widely published analysts still active today) does not come out in explicit support of gay marriage, but instead lambastes the conservatives who have misrepresented and instrumentalized psychoanalytic research and theory in their campaign against gay marriage. As Miller promulgates, “we Psychoanalysts are obligated to declare that nothing in the Freudian experience will validate an anthropology that is authorized by the first chapter of Genesis.” (my translation)
While it is important in the context of the gay marriage debate for scholars to publicly dismantle the pseudo-scientific and unfounded sociological claims made by conservative interests, I find that Miller’s short, five paragraph article also makes a profound, if unintended, argument for how the basic concepts of psychoanalysis are congruent with research in Queer Theory. Miller’s article comes out against the abuses and misinterpretations of psychoanalytic concepts and practices that led the ill-informed to pathologize or inject moral approbation against homosexuality based on poor readings of Freud, Lacan, and other luminaries of psychoanalysis. Miller makes a bold statement against any kind of normative moralizing and instead stresses the fluidity of gender, sex, and desire as a guiding feature of psychoanalytic practice and research. The article serves a double purpose of both defending against socially regressive misuses of psychoanalysis and clarifying the basic concepts and practices for queer scholars and activists who have been mislead by pop-psychology or misinformed critics. Here, I have translated key elements of Miller’s text for an English-speaking audience because I believe his points brilliantly illustrate how psychoanalysis has granted me and other scholars of Queer Theory illuminating language and discourse for the study of queer identity and desire.
In his third paragraph, Miller explains that the gendered language of Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis is metaphorical and not meant to cement specific gender roles based on sex:
If Jacques Lacan gave the Oedipal structure the form of a “paternal metaphor” involving the “Name of the Father”, the “desire of the mother”, and the phallus, this formalization was not meant to be an anthropological invariant. Its advances have led, on the contrary, to pluralize the function of name of the Father, then to relativize it, and finally turn it into a “sinthome” (an ancient form of the word “symptom”).
Regarding the gay marriage debate, Miller corrects those that would simplify the paternal metaphor of the oedpial structure and see it as evidence that a child must specifically have a heteronormative family with a female mother and a male father. Historically, this oversimplification of the oedipal structure has led some to assume that a “normal” family will produce “normal” children and that any disruption in the nuclear family dynamic would cause psychological damage. For example, in the 50s and 60s, some American psychologists performing studies under the name of “psychoanalysis” argued that an overbearing mother and a distant father (or sometimes an overly affectionate father) would lead to homosexuality. Miller dispels this notion, asserting that the terms “father” and “mother” in this usage are metaphorical and not tied to a specific gender or familial structure.
The Name of the Father does not correspond exclusively to the male, biological father of the child, but it can instead apply to any person or entity of any sex that has a position of authority over the subject and functions as the one that acculturates the child into acceptable behavior in society and regulates desire. The phallus has no correspondence to the anatomical penis, but it instead signifies a position of agency in the subject’s life, which is fluid, contextual, and can be held by (or simply be) anyone. For Miller, the job of the analyst is to pluralize and relativize the Name of the Father, meaning that they must help the subject understand who or what has that position of authority and what impact casting that entity as the law giver has on their pursuit of desire. Read the rest of this entry »