Esthela Solano-Suarez – The refusal of the concept


The next Pipol meeting invites us to think about a subject of great relevance: “The unconscious and the Brain.”  So, let’s go!

First step: to get into the swing of things, I buy books and go through them with a fine toothcomb. I make a simple choice to take one sample, only one to begin with, a publication on Neuroscience and Psychoanalysis: an encounter around the emergence of singularity from the Colloquium of 27 May 2008 at the Collège de France, published by Odile Jacob. The spirit of the conference aims to “identify points of intersection from which the concepts of one domain fertilize the reflection of the other and opens to new research perspectives.”(1) The research of the points of intersection leads to notions of trace and neuronal plasticity as well as somatic states and homeostasis.  Following this thread, I will focus on the articles of the authors who oversee the direction of the publication.

At first sight, the reading is not easy because the terminology is steep. But then, a profound sigh and a return to the 1960’s enables me to reactivate some traces of my Neuro-psycho courses – the memory of the professor who was passionate about the conduction pathways of the nervous system and all the mysteries of the functioning of the brain. I am right back there.

In these texts, it is a matter of giving a reason for the neuronal bases of the unconscious, the subject and the drive. It presents itself as follows:
a – at first, an experience leaves traces in the shape of sets of facilitated synapses
b – the reactivation of these neuronal sets account for the representation or the mental images of the experience that produced them
c – thereafter, these traces associating themselves with each other will give shape to new traces that do not have a direct link with the initial experience or perception.

From what precedes is deduced the “paradox of plasticity” (2) based on the disparity between the inscription of experience and the reassociation of traces separated from the experience. In this disparity where a discontinuity is perceived, fits a “fundamental unconscious reality disjointed from the experience” (3) as well as a subject who “writes traces and does not simply result from them.” (4)

To overcome mechanistic determinism the authors identify in this discontinuity the contingency, or even the tuché in Lacan’s view, in opposition to the necessity resulting from the continuity proper to development.

How then to articulate the brain and the body? The unconscious would not be all brain in so far as “the inscribed traces, following a perception or an experience, will be linked with traces coding for somatic states associated to this perception.”(5) Thus, the association between representations and somatic states would convene “the very notion of drive, which represents a limit concept between the somatic and the psychic.”(6)  In this perspective, the drive is a “homeostatic push” which will participate to produce an act.” (7)

We find here the patent example of what Lacan names “the refusal of the concept” (8), by inference, reducing the unconscious and the drive to the rank of a consequence of the experience of neuronal plasticity. To go quickly, let’s remind ourselves that the concept of the unconscious puts forward a discontinuity which is one that from the hiatus, the fault, the obstacle at the level of cause, shows that of the trace which fades and produces a hole effect.  Moreover, the drive in Freud’s view and jouissance in Lacan’s view, are inscribed in the body as witness to discordance and makes a hole at the level of the sexual. Also, the subject of the unconscious in Lacan’s view, is not the subject who decides to act as a response to this or that endogenous or exogenous stimulus. The subject is a pure function of the signifier, represented by a signifier for another signifier and as such, a pure effect of the bar which separates the signifier from the signified and not the individual in the Aristotelian view.

This kind of opportunistic exercise which pretends to reconcile neuroscience and psychoanalysis reduces it to the rank of a neuro psychology and aims at nothing other than its disappearance.

Translation Tracy Hojer-Favre
Reviewed by Caroline Heanue

  1. Neuroscience and Psychoanalysis, under the direction of Pierre Magistretti and François Ansermet, Odile Jacob, Domont, May 2018, page 7.
  2. Ibidem, page 18.
  3. Ibidem, page 19.
  4. Ibidem, page 28.
  5. Ibidem.
  6. Ibidem, page 21.
  7. Ibidem.
  8. Lacan J., Seminar XI, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, text established by J.-A. Miller, Le Seuil, France 1373, page 22.
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