It is as a psychoanalyst that I am invited to this conference. It is technology that makes possible my presence with you today for this debate in Turin.

I could content myself with that. But not at all. I would like to be in Turin, “in the flesh” as we say in French. Breathe in the air of the city, embrace my friends, go for a drink and dinner in a city where the food is exquisite and the wine too, laugh and walk there “for real” as children say… Technology lets me participate in a discussion without the body: all that’s left is the voice, speech and thought. ‘It’s better than nothing’, you say. No doubt.  In my discipline, psychoanalysis, we work with the knotting of what Lacan called “three dimensions”:  the imaginary, the symbolic and the real.  The imaginary is here:  you see the image of my body and I see yours. The symbolic is here too: you hear my words, spoken in Italian with my French accent. But the real? It can only be apprehended at this conference by the absence of body.

Let’s get to the proposed theme and think about the effects of technology on human beings.  Technology is nothing new. It’s even one of the foundations of human societies, as archeology has demonstrated. As of 1964, the eminent ethnologist, archeologist and historian, André Leroi-Gourand, brought to light the fundamental tie between culture and the evolution of technology in his work Gesture and Speech.  Today, the hegemonic mode of production being capitalistic, we have moved onto mass consumption.  How is the thirst for objects produced in the masses? The accumulation of data and the circulation of information, via smartphones and computers are mobilized: “You liked this object, book, music? You may also like this other product.” Messages come to us by the hundreds, playing on our appetence for these objects that Lacan baptized as latouses in his Seminar of 1970, The Other Side of Psychoanalysis: “The world is ever more populated with lathouses.” It’s where he described as the “alétosphere” this world in which truth had received a “formalized treatment.” [1] This is the world we’re living in. The accumulation of data and its statistical applications today dominate the market of objects. The messages that come to us are addressed to us by our proper name, even by our first name. It’s the familiarity of ones-all-alone, or better said, ones who believe they are all alone. The masses are managed by algorithms that mirror disposable objects that hook their yearnings.

Truth has the structure of fiction, said Lacan.  Recently, one of James Grey’s films, Ad Astra, in French “To the Stars”, reveals the magnitude and the future of new technologies that continue to develop within our mundane reality. A NASA astronaut, the film’s hero, is put in charge of a mission to find his father who disappeared sixteen years before during an extraterrestrial research operation. Let’s leave the story’s entirely classic plot there and turn our interest to the universe in which these people are living. It is a universe where technology rules. An example: regularly, humans wherever they may be, on Earth or other planets, must present themselves before machines: beneath their skin, they are chipped enabling the machines to execute a mental and physical diagnostic. In other words, the said instruments, that emerged from techno-science, verify – while short-cutting all speech – whether they are apt to carry out the mission they have been assigned, whether they are prey to an affect that would hamper their operational capacities. No more need for psychologists or doctors. The machines suffice to appraise the physical and mental health, the thoughts and the emotions that inhabit the body.

So will new technologies, through the use of algorithms, come to vanquish beings of speech?  They are already on the lookout for our choices, our tastes, our habits and our movements.  Has the death knell sounded for psychoanalysis? This discipline, forever disliked by powers of the state, this discipline founded on articulated language and the power of speech and whose object is the verbal material of words, will it soon be obsolete? Will the analyst be replaced by a terminal on the street or in a hospital?

You’ve understood that the question is ethical and not technical.

In effect, psychoanalytic technique does not deprive itself of the orientation of the subject of science to which it is tied from its origin. We listen to our analysands. What does that imply? Determining an element in the sequence of words that spring from free association that Lacan named “quilting point,” an element that commands the drift of the spoken chain. This also implies the establishment of a chain of signifiers that constitutes the being of the subject, or better said, its lack of being.  The objective, as the testimonies at end of treatment teach us, is the reduction and extraction of a term that names the subject’s choice of satisfaction or of enjoyment. Therefore, as psychoanalysts we function without ignoring what can be called the programme of enjoyment of a speaking being. That as analysts we can deduce this from the sayings of the subject is required. Our objective however is other. Because though we see this sketch come to define itself, it has no value other than the knowledge that the subject draws from it to orient its life and its choices. The knowledge gained that is at play in an analysis is a gain owed to the subject and only to it, in its irreducible singularity. Moreover, the analyst is erased at the end of the work, “sicut palea”, like manure says Lacan, making use of the expression of Saint Thomas Aquinas [2]. It’s what allows us to show that the analytic discourse, contrary to other types of discourse, is not a discourse of domination. The knowledge acquired in and by one’s analysis is therefore the other side of the knowledge acquired by the data and the statistics that aim to interfere in the subject’s choices. Incidentally, a new profession was hatched on social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter: “influencers.”  Psychoanalysts are the other side of influencers.

The other side of psychoanalysis is the secret. If today technology allows the collection of the subject’s choices – including the most intimate – into a data folder, in the psychoanalytic setting the utterances enounced there are the object of an absolute secret. No folder, no recording, no information collection. If someone asks to do an analysis, the preliminary interviews allow the analyst to decide if this person can enter into the psychoanalytic device. So it is that some of our Latin American colleagues received requests from narco-traffickers. They refused them entrance into analysis. There are contraindications for the psychoanalytic experience. The secret is a rare thing. You’ve understood that the one bound by confidentiality is not the analysand. The secret is imposed only on the analyst.  Obviously, it bears on the identity as well as on the symptom in that it is attributed to a proper name. Places for the secret tend to be ever more scarce. Yet the secret is one of the foundations of the possibility for peaceful social to co-existence as well as the possibility to live. It is associated with strong affects; modesty, shame and anxiety. It is associated with what we call the objects-cause of desire, or the objects that are taken from the body, that are at the origin of all desire. This secret is not only oriented towards others, indeed the Other, it is also a secret for its keeper.

The human body is in play here; this body inhabited, pierced through, and cut by the language and the words received or spoken from childhood; this speaking body whose facets Jacques-Alain Miller has expounded upon.

Psychoanalysis is one of the rare locations where the secret of the enjoyment of speaking bodies still has its place.

Translated by Julia Richards

Text presented at the Biennale Tecnologia, Turin, 13 November 2020, “Psychoanalysis and Technology,” curated by IPOL – Istituto Psicoanalitico di Orientamento Lacaniano.

[1] Lacan J., Seminar, Book XVII, The Other Side of Psychoanalysis (1969-70), trans. R. Grigg, London/New York, Norton, 2007,  pp. 160-2.

[2] Lacan, J., “Proposition of 9 October on the Psychoanalyst of the School”, trans. Russell Grigg, Analysis No. 6, pp. 1-13, widely available online.