Psychoanalysis and Performance

By Patrick Campbell; Adrian Kear | Go to book overview
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9

THE PLACEBO OF PERFORMANCE

Psychoanalysis in its place

Alan Read

Performance and psychoanalysis are offspring of the same ancestor: the placebo effect. Despite transgressive signs to the contrary, both in their own ways seek to please, to be acceptable, and both are characterised by their psychological rather than their physiological effects. The relationship between the two was first consummated on a fine evening in 1889 when Sigmund Freud took a night off from the ‘Congress in Hypnotism’ he was attending in Paris to see a performance artist. Since that fateful evening the two have been artificially sundered to protect the scientific legitimacy of psychoanalysis in its flight from its origins in hypnotic performance. Seeking medical authority and the status of treatment, psychoanalysis might be reminded of its debt to a performance tradition. If, since Chaucer, to ‘play at the school of Placebo’ has meant to flatter with servility, the task here is to contest the intellectual sycophancy shown to psychoanalysis by practices in search of a spurious theoretical rigour, to reassert a prior place for performance in the psychoanalytic turn. 1

The senses in which psychoanalysis was in its earliest manifestations already and always performance might illustrate ways in which the ‘and’ in psychoanalysis and performance can operate more critically. 2 In an age of Prozac and the resurgence of a pharmaceutical mind field, Jacques Lacan has become the midwife of psychoanalysis beyond the impulse of treatment and cure, beyond the pale imitation of medical integrity. His project returns us to its origins, located closer to the hypnotist Carl Hansen than to Hippocrates. As Adrian Dannatt says: ‘Just as painting exploded in entirely unprecedented, unimaginable directions when photography took on the burden of realism, so psychoanalysis will revolutionize itself in the wake of its freedom from the “cure”.’ 3 But the return, while hastened by Lacan, has always been inherent in Freud’s formulation of the field he invented. Like all good revolutions this promises to be as much a reprise as an advance and it is the degree of the return, measurable as the uncanny refrain of stage hypnotism within the talking cure, that will remind us once again of the inherent interdisciplinarity of these practices.

-147-

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