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In a casual fashion, I would like to start with a fresh example. Today I asked a friend of mine to describe herself. Her answer is “diligent” because, according to her, she never misses deadlines, she is punctual, and she always keeps promises. The message here is not whether she is really like that, but in a proper psychoanalytic perspective, why she wants to see herself as such. Then the ciphered secret reveals itself: from the minor logical discontinuity between diligence and its reasons, we see her answer is not a typical narcissist one (diligent in one’s own business), but a placeholder (signifier) of the desire of others –– she is only diligent insomuch as she never misses deadlines (assigned by others), she is punctual (for meetings with others), and she keeps promises (with others).

Soon after I gave my interpretation, she responded that although she also worked hard on her research, she didn’t regard it as special. Here we encounter a similarity with the Cartesian cogito, an eye that can’t see itself. The answer that one gives — externalizes into language — is an object per se, which is not a mirrory description coinciding with one’s true self, if any at all, but an internal object that is more than oneself. In this case, this object might be the love from others that can never be attained for-ever with assurance, which she clings herself to and thenceforth enables her to act as herself. It may very well take a temporary guise, which is to keep promises and punctuality — never letting fail others’ otherwise enigmatic desires — as a bridge to this excessive object. It is this discordance that introduces the possibility of the analyst’s interpretation.

It should be justified to say that in the interpretation above, I am attentive to the form instead of the content of her statement. Not so much as whether she is what she claims to be, but in what condition her statement first becomes possible. We already have enough fetishistic fascination with the “content” supposedly hidden from us. In pop culture, it is as if this phenomena became a command: discover your true self! We are alienated by capitalism, totalitarian governments, patriarchy, and so on! Not that these don’t necessarily hold any truth –– these are not comments of a cynic –– they can even help to sustain one’s mental by providing identities. However, to give a psychoanalytic treatment, which is far more radical than suggestion and advice, I think one, in the position of analyst, should not stop at this endless pursuit of hidden content.

In Freud’s analysis of dreams, he continually emphasizes that there is nothing ‘unconscious’ in the ‘latent dream­-thought’. The thoughts we find are nothing special but thoughts in the conscious/preconscious category, and the notion that we may ‘know’ our unconsciousness is a total disregard of the word un-conscious. In psychoanalytic practice, let us imagine if the analysand describes the obsession s/he has, and the analyst responds, “Don’t do that. Do other things instead!”, the analyst contributes nothing but concealing the drive of analysand with a demand. The analyst here asks the analysand to identify with the former, which may go well temporarily but cannot solve any problem.

From here, I would like to talk about defense mechanisms, as I am supposed to do. First, we have to address the infamous Freudian theory of death drive: What is accounted for the endless repeat that brings us anxiety and unpleasant? How should we explain this masochist aspect of the psyche? And who is that sadist inside us? Once these questions are posited, the distinction between pleasure and enjoyment becomes clear. We enjoy the circling of displeasures. This is why we cannot innocently just quit doing it because it brings us so much enjoyment, a twisted one indeed. And the symptoms, various defense mechanisms, are merely the ways we enjoy.

Symptoms are ciphered messages we address to the Other, not a specific person but the presupposed addressee without. Back to the case in the beginning, there is a homology between symptoms and the externalized answer. Despite their close connection with ourselves, the confusion between symptoms qua intimate-external message and self qua pure intimacy should be avoided. Symptoms are what we are unable to subjectivize, the surplus of our enjoyments. By directly addressing them, we mistake symptoms as part of ourselves, in our consciousness’s disposal. Unfortunately, this would cause more tragedy to ourselves, as Oedipus accomplished his fate exactly without knowing it.

To conclude, it is my plea that we shall be true to and be in conformity with wherever truth may bring us. Yes, we repress, deny, project, and so on. What to be asked is not what we repress, deny, or project, which is accessible to most people capable of reflection, but only in what psycho-structure it is possible to repress, deny or project. Why one may choose one way instead of others? It is a much harder question, which is only possible with psychoanalysis.