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The Problems with Love and Care: An Interview with Jamieson Webster


In this interview, Catrinel Radoi and Aristotelis Tokatlidis interview psychoanalyst and author Jamieson Webster about love, care, the family and the Left in contemporary capitalism. You can get a new pamphlet by Jamieson, published by Everyday Analysis, here.

Aristotelis: In one of your essays in Disorganisation and Sex you talk about repression as a necessary condition for the opening up of desire. Some of the sexual liberationists of the sixties and seventies wanted to end repression altogether. What did Wilhelm Reich get wrong about sex?

Jamieson: I’m not a Reichian. I mean, look what happened to him: In the end of his life he became paranoid and he tried to control the weather with his masturbatory practices! No, repression is not the enemy. It forces reading and it forces dialogue and it forces creation and it forces something to iterate itself constantly. A wish that you hear sometimes in patients is something like “can’t I just be liberated?” I don’t know what a fully open subject is. That doesn’t make any sense to me. “In what ways am I and in what ways aren’t I and what do I actually like inside of this?”: This is the more interesting question.

We often think of repression as imposed by some oppressive person or group. I’m not a fan of this model. I prefer to think about it as a historical transhistorical force that takes up different guises at different times. Sexual liberation, I’m sorry, was one of these guises. It became something pretty repressive at a certain point, it became its own moral worldview.

One thing my colleagues and I said in a reading group, though, is that we find it alarming how patients more and more rarely come and say “I’d like to be more free”. I don’t find patients asking this of me anymore. Instead I find them asking me to tell them what to do. I find them very anxious about their futures, about what’s right and what’s wrong, or what they can do that the other people do or don’t do. It makes me want to go on the side of liberation! Because I don’t know what’s happening right now and there’s not even room to ask this.

A: And people are not even having sex anymore.

J: People aren’t even having sex anymore! But is this a result of Sexual Liberation theology? Or is it a result of increasing conditions of precarity? Life is becoming so precarious that it doesn’t even matter if you’re liberated or not. We have to ask about freedom in a new way. People aren’t having sex.

A: There is a lot of talk on the left, lately, about the politics of care, often in proximity with the politics of the Commons. For me there is something insidious about this idea of the benevolent community that opposes neo-liberalism by practicing care from below. I think it can become, as you said about Sexual Liberation, another moral worldview. What do you think about care? Is the analyst someone who has the responsibility to, at least some times, not care?

J: There are analysts who’ve talked about free clinics who’ve talked about different ways of trying to reach different communities, creating local environments within which to offer our services. The analyst can’t entirely stand within a community. You know what I mean? So for example, I spoke to some analysts in Cyprus. Cyprus has 1,200,000 people in it and there’s five child psychoanalysts. These five child psychoanalysts are at the playground in the schools, they are friends of the parents of the children whom they treat. And they said it just does not work. How do you turn down a case, how do you accept a case when all of these boundaries are completely blurred and how do you withhold all this information about people who you’re in contact with every single day?  So there’s something interesting about how the analyst can be in a space held in common.

I keep making the joke that I dream of having a hospital… On the border of the Commons.

A: Will there be psychoanalytic hospitals in communism?

J: A question that many people have asked is, if communism was able to take place, would there still be psychoanalysis? It’s an interesting question. And then I wonder if in a way where we’re positioned in this interregnum in a kind of impossible position at the margins while we wait for something to change completely. And that this might be very different from, let’s say, a politics of care. In this interregnum, we would be serving a different function than that’s functioning in that interregnum?

A: From the withering away of the state to the withering away of psychoanalysis!

J: It’s interesting then to think of the nuances of questions of care and how, I don’t know, let’s say, a world of friends or mutual aid society or whatever it would be, would work with each other to serve different functions. This is the same question as the family: why do we ask one person to do all these things? So distribution is really important.

A: Let’s talk about the family. In the sixties, it was attacked as that which was repressing sexual desire. Now we say that it’s doing a bad job at care. Can psychoanalysis ever allow us to think beyond the family? Or is it destined to remain within the regime of Oedipus?

J: What would the family look like without this gendered, nuclear distribution and without also the weight of the family to reproduce itself and support itself financially as its own mini-nation state? I think about this a lot. When it comes to raising children differently, there’s been many experiments throughout time, and unfortunately if you look into the history of communes, you’ll find that the children of communes are very angry! There were difficulties with sexuality within them that somehow weren’t metabolized in the idea of shaking the frame of the nuclear family. You have a Shaker’s example where there’s no sexuality and on the other side you have an Otto Muehle example where there’s sexuality gone crazy to the point of abuse. So I think there’s all kinds of ways of trying to think about what psychoanalysis brings to the question of what a post-family world looks like.

I don’t hate Oedipus by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not anti Oedipus, but I’m only not anti-Oedipus because I don’t think I have the Oedipus that people have. I think of it  importantly as the moment when something is sedimented that has not much to do with mom and dad, but has everything to do with a natural evolution from the sexual life of the young child, through repression, into latency. Whichever way you configure the family, that’s going to happen. There will be repression; there will be a repressive moment. And it’s very sad. I mean, I love my child up until that point, but they also need to be saved from that openness of desire and the way in which it’s enclosed at the same time. So I don’t care if you have a mother, only you have two fathers, you have five parents, it’s still enclosed. There’s desire within this enclosed space of the immediacy of the people who are there. Then repression comes and it sends the child out, and that’s what was important for Freud: it sends the child out.

A: Yeah, I don’t know, I can imagine a commune-based post-family situation where you are taken care of, let’s say, comprehensively. There is something psychotic I guess, in this kind of setting which has no outside.

J: It brings us to your first question, because repression is the basis for the outside to enter in. So for me there’s something really paradoxical in analysis which says that it’s repression that enables the beginning of the exterior, in which you then have to move further and further and further into the outside. I always make the joke that Hamlet says to his mother: “I want to go to school; I want to go to Wittenberg and go to school” and she says “Oh no, stay with me!”. And so then, you know, what happened… Let him go to school!

Catrinel: But isn’t this one of the biggest problems caused by the family structure – the creation of an irreproachable contingency between love and care? I think that today’s focus on love and the aversion towards sex that you were mentioning is precisely a sign of both the disintegration of the family and an unconscious demand for its persistence. Isn’t the conflation of the two a dangerously moral cover-up for an asymmetric relation centered around an almost necessary position of the abused?

J: In Seminar V, “The Formations of the Unconscious”, Lacan brings up the joke about the guy who meets a millionaire. It has to do with a guy who was a valet to a millionaire, he shined his shoes. The guy makes the slip of the tongue/joke that he treated him very “famillionarily”.Lacan seizes on what’s interesting about this word “famillionaire” and he says it’s both the family and the millionaire. Historically, this highlights a moment when you both have millionaires and families and the conventional definition of family, based on lineage and inheritance, was giving way to the building of riches through other ways. He then further claims that there have been some efforts to strengthen the family structure, which was on the verge of collapse, by taking up social welfare programmes, maintaining, while undergoing transformation, old institutional forms. This is interesting because, while placing this on the scene of psychoanalysis, and going farther than Freud, Lacan identifies the kid as a symptom of the parents. In this sense via familial arrangements – where love appears first as a connection of and with the child – there will always be an impact on the configurations and dynamics of love. The danger of moralism appears when love is not seen in its proper relation to the Other’s desire and it is conceived of as symmetrical and reciprocal. While the asymmetry can be fixed by a shift of positions such as that between the analyst and the analysand, there is nothing to be done about non-reciprocity. Maybe care is a contemporary variant of what wants to keep the family together and from there we can start an inquiry on how the politics of care is a response to this image of the abused which is  again bypassing these difficult questions about sexuality.

C: In reference to your book, do you agree that rather than considering sex disorganizing or disorganized, a lot of people attribute those features to love? Could we start speaking of love as being another form of disorganization or as a rather pyschial organizing moral force?

J: It hinges on whether love embodies such totality, completeness, periodicity, and reciprocity. When people claim that love is disorienting, they may be referring to the way it drives them to madness. However, is this madness a result of yearning for the realization of a complete and ideal love that never materializes? Do they perceive any value in the breakdown of their expectations and the image of love? If this is indeed what they mean, then perhaps I can agree. But I am uncertain if that is the case.

C: What sets apart sex and love? Even if the two can be separated, it is often hard to recognise the absence of one and the presence of the other. Is love just a virtual disguise for a sexual non-relation? What do you make of Badiou’s critique of Lacan on this subject?

J: It’s interesting because patients really want to separate them. They want to say: this was sex and this was love, or “he just wanted sex”. They really want to establish a terrain that I think is incredibly ambiguous. And it is exactly the ambiguity of it, and the disruption of it, and the disorganization of it that interests me more than any knowing.

I understand that Badiou wants to open up the negativity of Lacan’s perspective into what is possible, but I don’t actually think that that’s not in Lacan himself with the idea of the sexual non-relation. He has all kinds of ways in his later work, as, for example, “La Troisième”, of talking about the relations that are made on the basis of the non-relation. He even goes as far as to say that men and women have relations. It’s just that it’s built on the foundation of a non-relation that’s important to him. Of course Badiou does a lot with the sexual non-relation, he uses that as a foundation for a certain kind of interrogation of philosophy and what’s possible in philosophy itself. Ultimately I think they’re splitting hairs, the two of them and then both of them play on the two split sides of those hairs.

That being said, couples therapy and Esther Perel are so huge in the US and I think a lot about the fact that psychoanalysis is being popularized by the impossibility of the couple. I mean this is the place now where everyone is so excited about psychoanalysis. There’s something speculisible about the couple. There’s more drama, more to hear, more of a dialogue than you would ever have if you tried to do a podcast on or a film of a single person’s analysis which is gonna interest nobody.

C: Are the incel/femcel memes a sort of discursive packaging, a way of acknowledging and at the same time refusing the non-relation?

J: But then they’re giving it a lot of presence in their attempt to refuse it. And couples therapy too, right? I mean everyone going there is there because they want to see the couple survive, but, you know, most of them don’t. Or you want to see them break apart and you want the schadenfreude. Nevertheless, what’s being evinced is two irreconcilable positions that may or may not stay together.

C: If love is an expression of desire for another, can we think of love in terms of plagiarism? Aren’t we trying with all the objects of our love to repeat and reproduce a relationship with that which has been taken away from us, by the figure of the mother, once we entered language? Do we still see this mimicking of the other person as the object of love as something perverse?


J: Lacan’s perspective on love and desire suggests that the boy, upon passing through the Oedipus complex, seeking to preserve his desire for the mother figure,ends with an identity and a narcissistic preservation of himself. He faces confusion regarding his attachment to the primary object and the potential threat posed by loving another object. In contrast, he says that the girl never abandons her desire and remains open to various possibilities without forming a fixed identity. Their desire is out there and it shifts through all of the metonymy of objects and, Lacan says, they tend to get a bit lost in all of this desire. But I think ultimately Lacan’s model is on the level of desire which is neither narcissistic love, nor is it identity, nor is it totality. This question of how you refashion yourself with every metonymic iteration is going forward from the mother. Every love object that is her stands in for her as an iteration of her as the displacement of her. It’s plagiarism. However, clinically, metonymy can be challenging due to its wild and unpredictable nature, encompassing elements of mania and melancholia. The continual act of plagiarizing objects perpetuates a sense of never reaching the original, engendering both mania and melancholy.


C: Related to your previous discussion on abuse and care, but also ties in perfectly to love’s de/formation into today’s culture is: given her reputation and somehow controversial music in its referencing and romanticisation of abuse, abusive relationships and violent love, what’s your impression of Lana del Rey?

J: I love “A Child Is Being Beaten”, the ultimate fantasmatic scene, because it speaks to the impossibility of getting close to the position of the object. One has to, in one’s own fantasy, place yourself there, right? It’s not “a child is being beaten”, it’s not “my brother is being beaten”, it’s “I am being beaten by my father”: you have to place yourself as “I”. Nobody really wants to be in the position of the object. It’s horror. And in fact, the work of the analyst to place the I there is difficult and brutal. Does Lana del Rey tear the veil open?  Does she take account of her position as the “I am being beaten by my father”? Or does she somehow play a game where she reassures everyone by making it herself so that no one has to take responsibility for their I-ness? Does it end up this gendered thing where the women endure, and then the men are all excused because they really wanted it? I guess this is the way that I would ask the question.