How does countertransference come to play such a big part of today’s orthodoxy of psychoanalysis? Paul Geltner, a New York based psychoanalyst, who specialises in countertransference phenomena, recently published a book where he speaks frankly about the “uses of feeling” in the analytic practice, although his expertise rests on providing supervision1 . His main focus forms what some refer to as pre-verbal stage or what he names as the pre-linguistic phase of the child’s development. What sparks off the emotional communication occurs, according to Geltner, by way of “induction” that starts a process, or a chain reaction, of “emotional communication”. However, induction is not always successful. Geltner concedes in his work as a supervisor that the analytic session revolves around the experience of speech with at least two people involved who address each other interchangeably. But, he asserts, this forms only half of what happens in the consultation room. The other 50% arises from the “emotional communication”, the passing of feelings to the analyst, the exchanges of affects with the view to inducing emotions in the analyst whose intervention arises as a successful induction. It is true, one could say, that the feelings may be real and overwhelming. In fact, what Lacan called the real, derives from the body of affects that slip through the mesh of language, and of meaning on which theories of communications are based, disrupting speech or accelerating it, making it veer off in a surprising direction or silencing it. The clinical experience confirms it. As if language was not enough for the communication to fail, some analysts are prone to prop up this failure with the ether of feelings that can fill in the void in the way in which astrophysicists speak of gravitational waves filling the space between the celestial bodies. For Geltner, the analytic session is a scene of mutual gravity and reciprocal attraction produced under the name of emotional communication and exchanges of jouissance between the analyst and the analysand. Let’s ask what the underlining principle of this model is. What is the reason for the child’s cry, Geltner asks and answers his question. For the new born, the cry aims to induce the emotional communication in the mother. The same image, on which he models other interactions, can then be applied in the analytic relation.
This contributes to my attempt to define a good analyst. If we adopt Geltner’s approach, a good analyst is the one who supposes the analysand to have a knowledge of the analyst’s subjectivity. Is countertransference a case of unfinished analysis? This is not a confusion or a mistake. It is a program. You love me and speak to me, I love speaking to you. It is like a song. The aim is to reach a certain level of banality and to remain there. This is the Geltnerian orientation. What would an analytic session in the Lacanian orientation look like from the perspective of countertransference? There would not be a Lacanian session from the viewpoint of countertransference. We are already in alienation.
What Lacan found in the space of alienation was what slips through the dialogues and communication. He called this remainder the object a because it is insubordinate and does not listen or submit to any side in the division. Strictly speaking, the object a belongs to another body, as Lacan taught at the time, and can be therefore incarnated by the analyst who refuses to satisfy some supposition of “external reality” of another subject. This other body is the place where Lacan found embedded the cause of the desire to know. It is the absolute minimum that sustains the analytic session at the level of transference, just as the Aristotelean moment, the now, is enough to sustain time. But if the now sustains another now, transference does not sustain another transference. It supposes speech or the subject of speech. Thanks to the object a Lacan was able to refuse the banality at the level of affective exchanges of transferences in the session. He displaced banality to the subject as speaking, associating, being happy until he comes to pay for his castration and becomes unhappy and divided. Can it be that countertransference is the point where psychoanalysts today form two radically distinct camps or sets?
At the end of the first decade of his teaching Lacan called countertransference “the analyst’s participation in the session” – a modest and tactful acknowledgement of the deluge of the countertransference theorists who dismissed Freud’s anticipation – empathy in Kohut and Greenson, projective identification in Klein and Bion, coenestheic functioning in Spitz, and from the 1970s Krystal (nonverbal affect system), Stern (affective attunement), Maroda (emotional engagement), and more recently in Kernberg, Resnik, Ogden and others. Lacan grew increasingly annoyed with the insistence on the reciprocity of “feelings” in the analytic session, and define narcissistic love as reciprocal and always requited. Half a century later Geltner and others descendants of this tradition still make a successful use of it. Back in the 60s things were about to change drastically.
Lacan was gradually reorienting the causality and temporality of the analytic session, and in effect of the analytic process, shifting it from the impasse of the emotional ping-pong towards the epistemological status of transference of the subject wanting to know about the body of suffering: love, hate, and ignorance. While he inserted the object a as a remainder of the failed communication between the subject and his addressee, his colleagues in the audience were jotting down what would subsequently form the bulk of a dossier, leading a year later to the extirpation of Lacan from the IPA. Lacan chose the term for it – excommunica – carefully for its reference to the Church style of exclusion from the community, but in effect from what is common and colloquial, as countertransference was at the time.
In that decisive year, 1963, Lacan addressed the question of the analyst’s participation in the session by skimming out the love phenomena that constituted the supposition of countertransference, and studied their accounts by analysts such as Paula Heimann, Annie Reich, Margaret Little, Barbara Low, Lucia Tower, and others. What was it, Lacan asked, that made these women analysts unable not to respond to their patients’ call of love and absorb it into their dreams and subjectivity? Was it not something in the gap between the analyst’s anxiety and desire? Lacan situated in the gap of the latter the not-without of the former – the object a in its function as cause. The return to the cause made him Freudian, which he confirmed in the famous statement in Caracas in 1980. Today, following Freud, Lacan and Jacques-Alain Miller’s decades of teaching, we could continue to build the series and say, echoing Lacan’s words, “You can be Millerians if you want but I am Lacanian”. It is just that every Lacanian is first of all Freudian – Freudian by night, Lacanian by day, and sometimes the other way round.
A few threads converge for us at this point. What echoes in Lacan’s statement, and what allowed him to capture the flesh and bone of transference around the object a, it occurred to me, was this very moment of excommunica. It is at that moment that Lacan could reinsert the cause, no longer embodied by a dead father, who overshadowed the IPA, but by the object that remains present as absent in the consultation room because it is the desire to know that brings it there through the door step when the communication of jouissances and the reciprocal gravitation of realities fail, as long as there is a body, any body but, above all, a sexual body of the analyst who keeps it there. We can isolate this step, this gradus, in Lacan’s seminar on Anxiety, as a decisive moment, prior to 1964, when Lacan already addressed the Lacanians of the future.
1 P. Geltner, “Emotional Communication”, Routledge, London-New York, 2013.