File spoon-archives/habermas.archive/habermas_2001/habermas.0101, message 1

Subject: HAB: Habermas and Freud: the transference
Date: Mon, 1 Jan 2001 12:26:48 -0500 (Eastern Standard Time)

Habermas much explicate his understanding of transference in KHI (1971). It is 
referenced in the index thrice: pages 231-232, 237, 257. The most telling of 
these references in on 237, The analyst "derives their interpretation to the 
degree that they methodically assume the role of interaction partner, 
converting the neurotic repetition compulsion into a transference 
identification, preserving ambivalent transferences while suspending them, and, 
at hte right moment, dissolving the patient's attachment [to the analyst]. In 
doing all this, the physician makes themself the instrument of knowledge: not, 
however, by bracketing their subjectivity, but precisely by its controlled 

Habermas thoughts on transference are expanded in greater detail in his debate 
with Gadamer (partially anthologized in Gayle Ormiston and Alan Schrift, ed. 
The Hermeneutic Tradition: From Ast to Ricoeur, 1990 - including Habermas's 
"Review of Gadamer's Truth and Method, Habermas's essay "The Hermeneutic Claim 
to Universality" Gadamer's "Reply to My Critics" and Ricoeur's "Hermeneutics 
and the Critique of Ideology"). The original debate took place in Hermeneutik 
und Ideologiekritik (1971) and includes Habermas's review of Gadamer's T&M, 
Gadamer's essay "Rhetoric, Hermeneutics and Ideology Critique" Habermas's 
universality essay (above) and Gadamer's reply, along with essays by Apel, 
Bormann, Bubner (x2), and Giegel.

Scenic Understanding

Scenic understanding is the Lorenzer-Habermas version of the transference 
neurosis. Transference helps to clarify the meaning of the symptomatic scene 
and the primal scene since the behaviour of the patient is identical in both 
scenes. If the infantile scene becomes understood, it elucidates the meanings 
of the symptomatic scene. This permits the resymbolization of the symptoms.

"As far as neuroses are concerned, these expressions represent part of a 
deformed language-game within which the patient 'acts' - he enacts an 
incomprehensible scene by contravening, in a conspicuous and stereotyped way 
[or, paleosymbolic, KM], existing expectations of behaviour. The analyst tries 
to render understandable the meaning of a symptomatic scene by relating the 
latter to analogous scenes in a situation which contains the key to the coded 
relationship between the symptomatic scene which the adult patient enacts 
outside his treatment on the one hand, and to the original scene of his early 
childhood on the other, in the transfer situation. This is because the analyst 
is pushed into the role of the conflict-charged primary object. In his role as 
reflective partner the analyst cani nterpret the transference as a repetition 
of scenes of early childhood and can thereby draw up a lexicon of of the 
meanings of these symptomatic expressions which are formulated in a private 
langauge. Scenic understanding proceeds, therefore, from the insight that the 
patient behaves in his symptomatic scenes as he does in certain transference 
scenes; it aims at the reconstruction of the origininal scene which the patient 
validates in an act of self-reflection" (Habermas, Claim to University, 
255-256, 1990).

"Scenic understanding establishes an equivalence of meaning between the 
elements of three patterns: everday scene, transference scene and original 
scene: it thereby breaks through the specific incomprehensibility of the 
symptom and assits in the resymbolization, ie. the re-introduction into public 
communication of a symbolic content that has been split off. The latent meaning 
underlying the present situation is endered comprehensile by reference to the 
unmutilated meaning of the original scene in infancy. Scenic understanding 
makes possible the 'translation' into pblic communication of the sense of a 
pathologically petrified pattern of communication which has so far remained 
inaccessible, but which determined behaviour" (Habermas, Claim to University, 
256, 1990).

As Robin Holloway (1978, unpublished disseration, OISE, University of 
Toronto) notes, "This account of the psychoanalytic process is persuasive, but 
slightly disturbing. Everything is seeen in linguistic terms, including the 
transference situation. It is used to 'construct a dictionary' for the meanings 
of symptoms. In orthodox psychoanalytic theory, the transference occurs becomes 
of repetition compulsion. Habermas does not mention repetition compulsion. 
Repetition compulsion is linked to the conservative nature of the drives. 
Habermas does not mention drive or affect. It is true that psychoanalysis is 
'the talking cure' as 'Anna O' dubbed it. But a purely linguistic account of 
mental processes is in danger of being one-sided and incomplete" (74).

Also, Habermas does not mention countertransference, which is a telling neglect.

What is important here is the precise status of an "incomprehensible symbol." 
There is a gap in the sematic field whenever a symbol is "desymbolized." As 
such, the symbol is "unquestionable." - 'it' cannot speak. The symbol gains 
'private linguistic significance.' The symbol (now actually a paleosymbol or 
stereotype) is not linguistic in the sense of ordinary and public language. It 
is linguistic only in the sense that dreams or symbols have a 'language' they 
are formulated in a private and non-verbal 'language' (Holloway also notes 
this, 75). So, in what sense can we say that a paleosymbol is linguistic.

Examining Habermas's analysis of dreams, Rainer Nägele (Reading After 
Freud, 1987) notes that, for Habermas, dream language has no grammar, quoting 
Habermas, "The sequence of visual scene is no longer ordered according to 
syntactical rules because the differentiation linguistic means for logical 
relations are lacking; even elementary basic rules of logic are canceled. In 
the degrammaticized language of the dream, relations are constituted by fading 
over and by condensation of the material" (Habermas quoted in Nägele 1987: 81). 
Nägele notes that Habermas's account is significantly different from Freud's. 
For Freud, the description of the possibilities of dream language point in 
another direction. Freud was not so much concerned with the "lack" of logical 
signs, what Habermas considers a degrammaticization, desymbolization, but 
emphasized that dreams present a problem of a different media of 
representation, and Freud uses the relationship between literature and a 
painting as a paradigm (Nägele 1987: 81). Quoting Freud, "The plastic arts of 
painting and sculpture labour, indeed, under a similar limitation as compared 
with poetry, which can make use of speech; and here once again the reason for 
their incapacity lies in the nature of the material which these two forms of art
manipulate in their effort to express something. Before painting became 
acquainted with the laws of expression by which it is governed, it made 
attempts to get over this handicap. In ancient paintings small labels were hung 
rom the mouths of the person represented, containing in written characters the 
speeches which the artist despaired of representing pictorially" (I don't have 
an immediate reference for Freud here, I believe vol 14 of SE). Painting, in 
other words, has its own order of representation, its own syntax or grammar. 
This syntax, as Freud discovers in the dream, is closer to the tropes and 
figures of rhetoric than to the syllogistic figures of logic. As such, it 
represents a kind of language that cannot be relegated to the exceptions of 
"poetic license" (Nägele 1987: 81). The dream, as it were, speaks its own 
language, but it is a language of images. The Freudian point to be made here, 
contrary to Habermas, is to avoid a fetishistic fascination with the 'content' 
of the dream, which supposedly hides behind the dream form rather, the 'secret' 
to be unveiled is the secret of the form itself. Dreams, in other words, are 
entirely normal, and the essential constitution of a dream is thus not its 
latent thought, which can be formulated in language, but the constitutive work 
(condensation, displacement) which confers on it the form of a dream 
(Slavoj Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology, 1989, 11-12). For Freud, then, 
dreams are not so much "excommunicated language" as they are work of 
unconscious processes (desire). As Freud notes, what is most overlooked in 
dream analysis is "the distinction between the latent dream-thoughts and the 
dream-work... At bottom, dreams are nothing other than a particular form of 
thinking made possible by the conditions of the state of sleep. It is the 
dream-work which creates that form, and it alone is the essence of dreaming - 
the explanation of its peculiar nature" (Freud, Interpretation of Dreams, 650).

Habermas's model of communicative action, in contrast, is ruled 
(theoretically) by a uniform grammar free of contradictions (ideal speech 
situation), which sees all deviations as "faulty" although they are "normal" in 
the sense of the normal case under social conditions which are repressive 
(Nägele 1987: 82). The backbone of Habermas's model is a self-identical 
subject (Erikson?), in full control over all his or her discourses. The agency 
of the ego appears, in Freud, as fragile and fluctuating, whereas in Habermas 
the ego is declared to be an "absolute master." The goal of psychoanalysis , 
then, is therefore to unify the discourse of a (coming to be) self-identical 
subject. Habermas, Nägele notes, dreams of a Bildungsroman - a subject in 
harmony with himself or herself and society - to which Nägele invokes Goethe, 
who problematizes rather than glorifies emancipation and self- reflection (this 
image is characteristic of a non-reflective mimesis, i.e. mythological reason). 
Furthermore, we can detect a substantial shift here. The role of the analyst is 
replaced, and not just a little, by the role of a competent grammarian (this 
is where the skipping over of coutnertransference makes itself most painfully 
felt). Although Habermas needs a Freudian model of sorts - in the form of a 
linguistic analysis and philosphical anthropology, the real inspiration behind 
this model is not the psychoanalyst, rather, the communications theorist or the 
reconstructive scientist. Ironically, the role preserved for the philosopher is 
no different than that of the analyst. The philosophy "instructs" the public in 
the "proper" interpretation of the sciences and although Habermas maintains 
that each individual is in a position to say "yes" or "no" to this 
interpretation, those who dissent too strongly risk being scolded for not 
having enough faith in their own performance (as dictated to them by the other, 
in this case, the scientist). Although there is resistance to an authoritarian 
model, Habermas position, most prominently figured in his analyses in The 
Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, bears the marks of a sly 'brow-beating' 
rhetorical gesture: the charge of performative contradiction. Nägele also 
observes that Habermas speaks of a "passion of critique" but not of the passion 
of the critic. Whenever the "text"moves away from the cognitive realm, the 
personal subject disappears. Nägele wryly observes the irony of a narrative of 
subjectivity that ends in a narrative without a subject. Who is the narrator? 
It does not matter, because there is only one story and one grammar that can be 
recited by both the doctor and the patient (Nägele 1987: 84). In the end, the 
absolute spirit reveals itself as the absolute grammar.

Systematically Distorted Communication and Transference

Systematically distorted communication is either a regression to an earlier 
form of communication (the primary process, paleosymbols), or an irruption of 
this earlier form of communication into public langauge. The first is Freudian: 
repression operates with language. But it is not clear how repression could be 
carried on by language. Repression is carried out by the ego, often at the 
behest of the superego. Language is the medium of operation for repression, and 
not its instigator. Anxiety is one of the fundamental motivations of 
repression. Habermas is correct, however, if we understand him as saying that 
repression is carried out by linguistic means (Holloway, 76-77). For 
Habermas, scenic understanding, in dealing with systematically distorted 
communication, presupposes a complete theory of communicative competence. There 
must be an at least implicit hypothesis on the nature and acquisition of 
communicative competence. Here, there is an essential difference between 
hermeneutic understanding and scenic understnading. Scenic understanding is at 
once both understanding/comprehension and explanation. This is understanding 
because there is explanation at the same time. The explanation of, for example, 
a symptom is the understanding of that symptom. Habermas uses the example of 
the 'original scene' in two places. Transference, then, is crucial. It is both 
an act of creation (the production of meaning by way of filling in the gaps), 
discovery (of the primal scene), and, implicitly, legitimation (of the 
original 'publicity' of symbols).

Aside from my more cryptic criticisms, the question of the analysand's 
"validation" of the analysts reading is interesting. What if the analysand 
refuses to 'validate' the interpretation? Does it mean the interpretation is 
false? So if an analysand says, "I'm communicatively competent" are we to take 
them at their word, or launch them back into 'therapy?' What is the 'norm' 
available here for determining "correct" validation? Surely the analysand 
themself is not the sole bearer of responsibility in this matter - it is a 
communal decision (which is why the clinical model reaches its sharp 
limitations in politics). Isn't one of the fundamental analytic problems that 
of denial? Can we even say then that a 'cure' can be rationally anticipated? 
(again, raising the spectre of conformist psychology).

The question of legitimacy gives rise to the question of validity and validity 
claims, but it would seem that we are at a loss for membership. If we exist 
within a systematically distorted communicative realm, then what does consensus 
have to do with truth? Consensus, I would argue, along with Albrecht Wellmer 
and others, is not a criterion of truth. True, we might have very little else 
to go on... but the two are not coincidental. Just because we all agree that 
the earth is flat... doesn't make the earth flat. Likewise, we should be struck 
by the political implication of this. When someone maintains a position, in an 
uncommunicative fashion - they might, in fact, be 'truth-telling' yet they 
would be deemed, politically, as pathological, their practice would not fit 
with the communicative model. It seems to me that this is where Habermas's 
arguments concerning performative contradictions reaches its limits and where 
is 'ideal' model of the psyche, derived linguistically from Freud's 
metapsychology, becomes a problem. In contrast to Habermas's 'autonomous ego' 
(which Lacan' regards to be a fantasy, "The ego is autonomous? That's a good 
one!"). Lacan focuses more on the subject of the unconscious - the subject of 
the unconscious not being in communicative harmony with their environment and 
social surroundings. The point being, for politics, that a model of 
antagonistic relations is more welcome (and appropriate) than a consensual one. 
A consensus based, or communicatively based, politics is, in this sense, one 
form of hegemony - one which invokes a particular 'democratic imaginary' for 
its success. The task of a critical theory, then, would be precisely to 
criticize the pre-political models presupposed by such a 
communicative-theoretic argument - and this is, I would argue, found most 
saliently in Habermas's reading of Freud.

Sorry, I did it again, I wandered off the path of transference. I'll close with 
this: Habermas's linguistic theorization of transference does not to justice to 
the psycho-dynamics of what is 'really going on.' In fact, it leads to serious 
distortions of the analytic relationship. More than this, it leads to a 
disfiguration of the analytic understanding of subjectivity and the relation of 
the subject to the imaginary and the symbolic. Without a greater investigation 
into transference, the role of psychoanalysis as an independent confirmation of 
a critical theory / theory of communicative action is suspect.


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