Recently here in London the Freud Museum organised a three-day conference on the subject of Psychoanalysis, Money and the Economy. Amongst the keynote speakers was Bruce Fink, translator of Lacan’s Ecrits into English and author of many fine books on Lacan, including The Lacanian Subject and Lacan to the Letter. As he rarely speaks in the UK this was a great opportunity to hear his thoughts in a talk he entitled, ‘Analysand and Analyst in the Global Economy, Or: Why Would Anyone in their Right Mind Want to Pay for Analysis?’

The way he had phrased this title reminded me of some comments Lacan makes at the end of his discussion of Poe’s The Purloined Letter in Seminar II. I will quote the relevant passage here:

“I don’t mean to insist on it, but you might gently point out to me that we, who spend our time being the bearers of all the purloined letters of the patient, also get paid somewhat dearly. Think about this with some care – were we not to be paid, we would get involved in the drama of Atreus and Thyestes, the drama in which all the subjects who come to confide their truth in us are involved. They tell us their damned [sacré] stories, and because of that we are not at all within the domain of the sacred and of sacrifice. Everyone knows that money doesn’t just buy things, but that the prices which, in our culture, are calculated at rock-bottom, have the function of neutralising something infinitely more dangerous than paying in money, namely, owing somebody something” (Seminar II, p.204).

It is this last line that caught my attention. Lacan’s idea is that the act of exchanging money can be a mediator that absolves you from the danger of a more intimate connection: actually owing someone something. A psychoanalysis is certainly a very expensive business, but Lacan’s comments imply that if you give up your money to a psychoanalyst it spares you from giving up something else much more precious. Perhaps this is the reason why people choose to pay for a psychoanalysis in the first place, and why some people like to think that they can ‘buy’ a psychoanalysis.

Indeed, this could be true of other things. Perhaps it is why more people give money to charity than get involved directly in charitable activities? To experience at first hand the bond to the person they are helping would be too much, too great a price to pay, and so you give money to avoid precisely this encounter.

It is interesting that Lacan’s comments on money in psychoanalysis are raised in connection with The Purloined Letter. At the end of Poe’s story, Dupin, the detective tasked with retrieving the stolen letter from the wily minister who has snatched it from under the helpless Queen’s nose, collects his fee for the service rendered. Lacan draws his audience’s attention to the fact that Dupin does not appear in the slightest bit concerned with the contents of the letter itself. In spite of how intriguing these might be – and Poe does not reveal these details to the reader either – Dupin stays aloof, his only motive in aiding the police being the monetary remuneration he receives. Did Lacan perhaps see the similarity between the situation of the psychoanalyst and that of Dupin in Poe’s novel?

One of the points that Fink made in his talk was the importance of charging something to the analysand, even if this amount was relatively trivial. This is something other Lacanian authors have commented on. The Lacanian justification for the fee is that it evokes in the analysand the experience of loss (in Lacanian terms this is, of course, referred to as castration): it demonstrates that something has to be given up, that there are prices to be paid that are not monetary. And equally perhaps to demonstrate that there are things that have value that cannot be bought and sold.

Are these two ideas compatible though? How do we reconcile on the one hand, the idea that money is a convenient cover for owing someone something, and on the other that with certain analysands it can be used to symbolise the experience of symbolic castration that analysis is supposed to entail? Would not money be as much a way of guarding against this experience as it would be in bringing it about?

Perhaps it is not the amount of money that is important, but the gesture of sacrifice the payment entails. Would the analysand reason that the greater the fee paid to the analyst, the less work they themselves would be obliged to do on the couch? The danger therefore of the work of a psychoanalysis threatening what Lacan calls the analysand’s established ‘mode of jouissance’, and which Freud calls the ‘gain from illness’ (SE VII, 43n), would be minimised.

An analysand in Lacan’s practice became convinced that he needed, at whatever cost, to obtain a diploma to become a doctor or a psychiatrist. In the next academic year, he enrols himself in to the first year of medical studies. He tells Lacan about this and Lacan doubles the price of the session on the spot. This made it materially impossible for the analysand to continue his studies (story related in Jean Allouch’s Les Impromptus de Lacan, EPEL, 1998, p.81).

Leaving aside the possibility that Lacan’s motivation here was for his own financial gain, might he have been trying to get his analysand to bring into question the ideal he had created for himself by generating, through the doubling of the fee, the impossibility of sustaining both an analysis and his medical studies? Impossibility, lack, sacrifice: these are the hallmarks of castration.

In another short comment on the nature of money in Seminar XVI Lacan notes that money has no use value, only exchange value. He tells his audience:

“Where things are more enigmatic, is when it is no longer commodity that is at stake but the fetish par excellence of money. In that case, this thing which has no use value, which has only exchange value, what value does it preserve when it is in a safe? It is nevertheless quite clear that it is put there and that it is kept there. What is this inside that seems to make what is locked up in it completely enigmatic? Is it not in its way, with respect to what constitutes the money, is it not an inside that is altogether outside, outside of what constitutes the essence of the money?” (Seminar XVI, 30.04.69, Cormac Gallagher translation of the unpublished Seminar, p9.)

Lacan is asking what happens when money is not exchanged, but instead simply hoarded, perhaps being stashed in a bank account or secreted away in investments. His answer is that it essentially stops working: it stops working as currency because money gets its worth only by virtue of being exchangeable. So if the miser abhors the idea of parting with his money it becomes effectively useless for its function and takes on the character of a fetish object. Money only has value insofar as you are prepared to part with it.

Lacan is referring here to Marx’s idea of commodity fetishism to show that the money’s value is not inherent in the thing itself. The miser’s error is in failing to see that money is only valuable insofar as it can be circulated and exchanged, rather than seeing in money an intrinsic worth or attributing to it some magical property of its own.

This raises the question that Fink’s talk brought into relief – is money itself important in psychoanalysis, or does it indicate something more important? How can someone’s relationship to money be utilised in the analytic work, and what effects might be produced? The issue of money in psychoanalysis surely goes beyond the payment of a fee.

By Owen Hewitson,

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