Arriving in the harbor of New York City, Sigmund Freud beholds the Statue of Liberty illuminating the universe and jokes to his colleague, Carl Jung: “They don’t realize we’re bringing them the plague.” This is a story about Freud that Jacques Lacan used to tell. Jacques-Alain Miller reminded us of this. In Écrits, Lacan revealed the twist in Freud’s witz upon arrival in America: “To catch their author in its trap, Nemesis had only to take him at his word. We could be justified in fearing that Nemesis has added a first-class return ticket.” What gets infected by the plague is not just the New World. The joke is on Freud, as the infection is returned to its sender in an inverted form. The invitation to bring in a psychoanalyst is a happy one, provided that the analyst is expected to bring along a cure. Sailing into America, Freud knew very well that the analyst hands over the disease, not the cure. Freud did not know, on account of his hubris, that the success of psychoanalysis in America would plague psychoanalysis itself.
In 1965 during Seminar XII, Lacan asked Miller to report on an article by Norman Zinberg about the malaise of analysis in the United States. Miller remarked, “Of what then is psychoanalysis dying in America? . . . One could simply say that it is dying of its success.” If psychoanalysis is only possible when it is subject to the irreparable, then psychoanalysis in support of the pursuit of happiness, this American inversion, is a pathogen that kills its host. When psychoanalysis becomes fully soaked by the cure, it will die. Yet Lacan remained almost optimistic amidst the doom and gloom as he concluded that lesson of his Seminar, “I think for my part, that in truth everything can make itself heard in America.” He refers to the arrival of Lacanian psychoanalysis in the U.S., and the possibility that it would have small effects there not subject to the inalienable constitutional right of happiness: “It is the years to come that will give us an account of all this.” Now, in 2022, decades of Lacanian psychoanalysis in America have come to pass. In this issue of The Lacanian Review, after the 40th anniversary of Lacan’s death, we hope to give some account of all this.
The issue at stake is transmission. How was and how is psychoanalysis transmitted across oceans and between languages. Can we account for a plague that has managed, despite the odds, to maintain the place of the symptom, the irreparable core that animates psychoanalysis at home and in new worlds? If we follow Miller’s close reading of Lacan’s precise reading of Freud’s formation of the unconscious, bringing them the plague, we discover that transmission in psychoanalysis is not a one-way trip, but a discourse that circulates. Psychoanalysis and its plague travel via the unconscious, a first-class, return ticket.
Editorial originally published in The Lacanian Review, “American Lacan“, Issue 12 (Spring 2022).