When a kitten is brought to the vet for the first time, the vet will chip it and check that the device works for identification. This chip contains some other information. As I watched the vet do this, I couldn’t help but think that in the near future humans will probably have their own chip. Our mobile phones already perform certain functions and contribute to our ‘traceability.’ Remember the masterpiece The Wire,[1] which Wikipedia now calls “the best series of all time.” The drug dealers only used anonymous mobile phones, which they threw away as soon as they had used them once. The current debates, both in public and in the National Assembly, on the “health pass” linked to the epidemic and the political importance of health issues today, bear witness to the difficult dialectic between freedom and health since the development of medicine and the life sciences.

Let’s also remember the film Ad Astra.[2] The plot is classic: a son searches for his father, an astronaut who had disappeared years before in his mad search for life on other planets. But there is something in particular to be noted: the hero has to check his mental and emotional balance throughout his journey. He does this by talking to checkers which return their diagnosis, deciphering his supposed mental stability from his utterances and enunciation. They then authorise him––or not––to continue his mission. This is the psychologist-machine of the future, at the service of the authorities: downright intrusive!

Georges Canguilhem[3] predicted this a long time ago when he ironically gave psychologists a piece of advice: from the Sorbonne, two paths are possible, one leads to the police station and the other to the Pantheon.

But this is fiction, you may say. Yes, it is. But fiction interprets a movement that is under way. Let’s take a trivial example. The creation of the Doctolib app has changed the way medical, dental and psychological appointments are made. It has modified the device that generates the encounter, as is also the case for other encounters, such as romantic ones. The patient is no longer referred to a practitioner by another practitioner, nor by the advice of a friend or relative. The only name involved is Doctolib, which serves as a guarantee. The field of tuché has become collectivised.

These different threads––the traceability of bodies, the psychologisation of activities socially required of individuals (of which the term “school phobia” can serve as an example), and interlocutors constructed by algorithm––point in the direction taken by the master of tomorrow, of whom Lacan was able to say that “it is from today that he commands.”[4]

In one of his books Gérard Wajcman has analysed the developments of video surveillance in all fields: satellites, drones, medical imaging.[5] He shows how a global “omni-vision” has developed and, consequently, a surveillance of places and people that is as generalised as it is well-intentioned. He deduces an ideology of generalised transparency, applying to all areas of our lives, not limited to public spaces but penetrating, with our consent, into all areas of our life.

We are therefore in the era of the end of intimacy and secrecy.

And what of psychoanalysis?

Present on Twitter and other social media, it has updated itself to inform the public about the activities it organises. The École de la Cause freudienne has created its own television station, where interviews with intellectuals and artists are broadcast, generating debates in which psychoanalysis engages with other fields of knowledge. It has long had a publishing house and a bookshop, and also regularly updates its methods and develops others. The study days and lessons undertaken on its premises are broadcast by video to an ever-increasing number of participants who are physically present in different countries. In terms of information, theoretical and clinical debate and teaching, psychoanalysis is making its voice, its voices, heard by a wide audience. But it is not about control. It is about still being there, by bending to modernity.

What really makes psychoanalysis unique today in the social field?

The break that psychoanalysis makes with the orientation of the time is the analyst’s office. In our world of traceability and transparency, it remains a place of secrecy, a secret that only the analysand can break. It is also the place where the intimate is constructed.

Let’s talk about extime.

One of Jacques-Alain Miller’s courses puts this word, which Lacan appropriates, to work, starting with a question, a quotation from Stendhal: “Is there anything real in this science?”[6]

J.-A. Miller introduces the question thus: “Psychoanalysis seems well suited to putting us squarely in the register of intimacy […] Private life, intimate life, that’s what psychoanalysis is all about.” He introduces it in this way to underline Lacan’s invention of a new word: extime. Recalling that this is how Lacan describes the Other in the Écrits,[7] thereby designating the unconscious, he shows that the core has this opacity of object. It designates “both a lack of signifier and a fullness.”[8]

The secret, of which the analyst’s office and the session are the places, is a secret to oneself. It lodges in this extime, of which the intimate is only the imaginary veil.

In psychoanalysis, the secret is of the order of the real. It catches what is real in the unconscious.

Translated by Janet Rachel

[1] The Wire, a television series created by David Simon and co-written with Ed Burns, broadcast on HBO from June 2, 2002 to March 9, 2009 (five seasons and sixty episodes), music by Tom Waits. Ed Burns was a former officer of the Baltimore crime squad.

[2] Ad Astra, directed by James Gray, USA, starring Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones. Released September 2019.

[3] Canguilhem, G., “Qu’est-ce que la psychologie?”, Revue de métaphysique et de morale 1, 1958.

[4] Lacan, J., “D’une réforme dans son trou”, La Cause du désir 98, March 2018, p. 13.

[5] Wajcman, G., L’œil absolu, Paris, Denoël, 2010.

[6] Miller, J.-A., “Extimité”, L’orientation lacanienne, annual course delivered within the framework of the Department of Psychoanalysis, The University of Paris 8, lesson of 13 November 1985, unpublished.

[7] Lacan, J., “The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious”, Écrits, London/NY, Norton, p. 436: “Which other is this, then, to whom I am more attached than to myself, since, at the most assented-to heart of my identity to myself, he pulls the strings?”

[8] Miller, J.-A., “Extimité”, op. cit., lesson of 11 June 1986, unpublished.