The Techniques and Media of Psychoanalysis

For years I've thought that the standard English translation of French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan's 1954-1955 seminar, rendered as "The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis," downplays the full throttled engagement with technology that animates much of the early research of Lacan. Though faithful enough to the French title "Le moi dans la théorie de Freud et dans la technique de la psychoanalyse," the English term "technique" tends to be a little less, well, technical and technological, than the connotations allowed by the French term "technique." This ambiguity is on display in translations of Stiegler's "La Technique et le Temps" series, which is suitably rendered as "Technics and Time" in English. However, if we reconsider Lacan's '54-'55 seminar through the rubric of a "technics of psychoanalysis," it becomes easier to make sense of Lacan's concerted reflections on cybernetics, automata, and associated topics in that course. It likewise becomes possible to put that course in synchronic relation to contemporary scientific and technological developments (e.g. the rise of cybernetic structuralism in France and the USA, artificial intellgience, the behaviorist search for Markov processes in human conduct) as well as a diachronic series of technologically-conditioned reflections in sciences of the mind (e.g. Charcot's use of photography in the late 19th century, Freud's steam engine analogies). This approach has beneficial effect of concretizing some of Lacan's more mystical commentaries and allowing his insights (and oversights) to become part of a larger conversation about how media, technology, ideology, and epistemology condition concepts of the self. Lacan the mystic is thereby displaced in favor of Lacan the experimentalist that is both object and analyst of post-WW2 technological subjectivities. (We already having a penetrating portrait of that latter Lacan thanks to Henning Schmidgen).


This year I'll put such theses to the test: In the winter semester I'll teach a course on Media and Techniques of Psychoanalysis that examines how various practices, technologies, and techniques shaped sciences of the mind from the late 19th century to the present. Lacan will feature prominently, as well Charcot, Bateson, Guattari, and perhaps Stiegler. Freud's eternally stimulating Notiz über den Wunderblock (A Note on the Mystic Writing Pad) will likely occupy pride of place in readings for our first class session. The course will be taught as part of Thomas Macho's graduate program in Psychoanalytische Kulturwissenschaft, a wing of the Humboldt University's programs in cultural studies. A brief description of the course is below and in coming months I may post drafts of the syllabi here. If anyone out there has tips for good readings, please get in touch!


Techniken und Medien der Psychoanalyse: 
Zu Beginn der Kernphase werden verschiedene Techniken und Methoden der Klassifikation, des Vergleichs und der Analyse kultureller Praktiken vermittelt. Mediale Ausdrucksformen wie Texte, Bilder, Zahlen, Filme oder Piktogramme sollen hinsichtlich ihrer jeweiligen kulturellen Funktionen analysiert und als Elemente kulturellen Wissens problematisiert werden. Ein zweiter Schwerpunkt des Moduls zielt auf die historische und analytische Interpretation von Interaktionen, Ritualen, Formen verbaler und nonverbaler Kommunikation, sowohl in ihren expliziten wie unbewussten Inhalten.