London, February 2017
The Cartel’s Whirlwind
Affinities Between the Cartel and Lacanian Psychoanalysis
To begin with, I’ll take a brief look back on the cartel’s history, its British background, although you are certainly very familiar with it, thanks to the translation by V. Voruz and P. Dravers, of Lacan’ s paper “English psychiatry and the war”. I think this background sheds light on today’s function of the cartel. Its invention was indeed linked to the history of psychoanalysis and Lacan’s efforts, not to say his fight, to pull psychoanalysis out of the imaginary world and get it connected to the real.
Why did Lacan propose that tool?
The idea of such a small group dedicated to psychoanalysis comes from the therapeutic groups Bion and Rickman, who were psychiatrists and analysts, settled in a brand new and original way in the British army during WWII. Lacan read the paper they published in the Lancet medical journal in 1943, that is in the midst of the war, and just after the end of it, he went to England where he met them.
In the paper Lacan wrote about this experiment, which announced the cartels, he called it a “methodological innovation”. Bion’s small groups of soldiers, who were hospitalised in the rehabilitation wing of a military psychiatric hospital, were a tool used to bring back desire, and eventually the desire to fight, to these men who were marginalised, if not rejected. These groups were acting against segregation, through breaking vertical hierarchy and by means of giving the floor to each one, which in a military institution was something quite new!
Bion’s idea was to involve these soldiers in groups under the authority of the medical officer (Bion), not in forcing them to have a common occupation which they would have done only reluctantly, but inviting each one of them to propose an occupational task, which should be different from the comrades’ ones, for example, carpentry, map reading, car repair… It went as far as the formation of dancing classes, which appeared probably as a joke or a provocation, but Bion agreed, provided these classes were reserved to those soldiers who had no knowledge of dancing at all (and the instruction was done by ATS staff).
Then these guys could gather around a common task and form a group, a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 10 people. The master signifiers involved were respect and responsibility: each member of the small group was expected to be responsible for the task he chose. Self-criticism was encouraged during a short daily meeting of the groups. Bion talked about this experiment as a group therapy which, by the means of speech, may lead the neurotic to recognise his symptoms, face the difficulties he encounters during his task and bring “fresh proposals” to overcome them.
Thus the neurotic would have “a fair indication of his effective will and aims, as opposed to the aims he himself proclaimed or the psychiatrist wished him to have”. And indeed Lacan paid the greatest interest in the fact that Bion’s group aimed at getting rid of the power of the imaginary.
At a clinical level, Lacan was denouncing at that time (in the 50s) an analytic practice which was clearly dominated by the imaginary, at the expense of the symbolic and the real. At the level of the analytic group he was denouncing working groups being in the hands of a few authorised people, some leaders who were generating rivalries because they were the same who decided the nominations inside the group, which indeed relied rather on imaginary criteria than on analytic ones.
Lacan’s answer to the crisis in the analytic institution was an act: following the split in 1953 and afterwards what he called his “excommunication” by the IPA, he founded a School in 1964 (with reference to Plato’s and Aristotle’s “Ακαδημία”, Academy) and in the very same act, he established the cartel as its basic organ. The cartel was invented at the same time the School was.
A few years later, he added the pass as another basic organ. Both aimed at introducing and sustaining an awakening, some proximity with the real, and you remember that talking about the war and Bion’s groups, he opposed the “intrepidity” of British people resting upon “a veridical relation to the real” and, on the other side, the “imaginary refuges” of the French community. I won’t take the risk to discuss if this statement remains politically relevant today, I won’t open this Pandora’s box, and I leave that issue for discussions following our seminar.
Let’s consider those different issues: bringing back desire, acting against segregation by means of a small group based on respect and responsibility, and getting rid of the power of the imaginary. Aren’t they today a topical issue, at a time when everyone stays often isolated in one’s own solitude, in one’s own jouissance of working alone, in the mirage of an infinite access to knowledge?
Working in a cartel also brings an opportunity to break the silence, to take the floor, meet new people while sharing their interest for psychoanalysis. It is a model of social link, as it tries to have people working together with as little imaginary effect as possible.
Now, let’s consider some specific points that Peggy Papada and Philip Dravers asked me to focus on: the cartel versus the reading group, the function of the so called plus-one, and also the use of the knowledge coming out the cartel.
1. First question : what is the difference between a cartel and a reading group?
Alfa – The cartel isn’t a large group, it doesn’t have an unlimited number of members, contrary to classical groups. Lacan suggested three people as a minimum, five maximum, four being the ‘right measure’. Why is it so?
The group begins beyond two people, the couple, which necessarily activates the imaginary dimension ; beyond five members, the group becomes a large one, a mob which necessarily relies on a leader and leads most of the time to the formation of antagonistic sub groups. For Lacan, the typical large group is the religious one, where the number of their flock is never limited.
Bêta – The 4 + 1 members choose a title for the cartel, which is the topic to be studied, then each member, including the plus-one, chooses his or her own specific topic of work or question, related to the cartel title. Thus, each member enters the cartel with a point to be discussed, challenged by the other participants.
Lacan emphasised the fact that, in a cartel, there is no anonymity; each member bears his or her name. This can be related to Lacan’s words regarding “the collective” which, he said, “is nothing, but the subject of the individual”. This is the main difference with any study group working on a common theme, whose members look for knowledge stated by someone supposed to know. In a cartel, each member brings his or her own bit of knowledge.
But you could argue that even in a study group, each member may have his specific question or field of interest. That’s for sure, but what the cartel introduces is a process of writing: at the very beginning of a cartel, each member chooses and writes down his own specific topic of work and then gets it registered on the school website (it’s usually the plus-one who is doing that job). These processes of writing and registration aren’t without effects. On one hand, writing your topic of work makes clear the starting point and fixes it, so that when the cartel is dissolved, the member will have an idea of the progress which has been made, and of the new questions which arose. But furthermore, the process of registration, which includes the School as Other, realises some sort of commitment, which promotes the cartel’s work.
Gamma – A cartel implies different limitations, regarding the number of participants, but also time and space, for a cartel cannot last longer than one or two years. Then, a permutation has to occur, this circular organisation being designed so as to prevent inertia, what Lacan called “a glue effect”, that is to say imaginary effects which often lead to run round in circles, or to form an established Circle of scholars. Lacan called this “circular organisation” a “whirlwind” (un tourbillon). I will come back to that.
Moreover, a cartel doesn’t provide an instantaneous and universal knowledge. It takes into account the not-all dimension (which in Lacan’s teaching is specifically stated in reference to feminine jouissance, which isn’t all on the phallic side), and the dimension of the impossible. In a cartel, everything isn’t possible: the knowledge has to be deepened, but what you get remains patchy, you can get only bits of knowledge.
This is in opposition with Freud’s statement regarding mobs. He indeed wrote that for someone belonging to a mob, “the notion of impossible doesn’t exist”.
A cartel probably fails exhausting its theme of work; in a way it fails to achieve its aim, because it is the nature of demand to be always unsatisfied. But taking into account the dimension of the impossible makes precisely something possible to occur; it might lead to the encounter of a bit of knowledge in the real, which may appear specially (particularly?) when a point of impasse, a deadlock is met.
But the cartel isn’t group therapy, as Bion considered his small groups of soldiers. It is an original mode of working, suggested to those who want to study psychoanalysis.
Delta – The cartel as the best instrument to study psychoanalysis.
In my experience, beside the cure and supervision, the cartel has always been the best instrument to study psychoanalysis, precisely because it doesn’t operate through the master or university discourse – although of course teachings, lectures are also valuable, but still the cartel provides a very specific knotting with one subject’s own questions.
The cartel shakes up old habits because it functions on the opposite of the university discourse, which always puts a pre-established knowledge at a command and control post. Then subjects have no other choice than to give way, to yield to a discourse formatted according to the university requests. It has to please the master, to fit the standards, otherwise it won’t be validated or it won’t please the leader.
Besides, the cartel proposes an access to knowledge completely different to what we can get through the Internet, which has no limits whatsoever and relies on a solitary practice.
Epsilon: the cartel doesn’t obey to a standard use. Its structure is a frame which allows the work to be set in motion, then the cartel lives its own life, it is made of unexpected events, it goes through the turbulences introduced by speech, which may bring surprises.
Nowadays, a cartel isn’t necessarily set up only in order to read a seminar or a course, although that’s what it is frequently used for. A cartel is a light vehicle able to adapt to the rhythm of our time and to our lifestyle. It may follow different trails and have different aims.
It may have a political dimension and serve the extension of psychoanalysis, for example when we use that tool to prepare an event like the NLS congress, and there are at present ten cartels dedicated to that theme (there are actually two in the UK, one on The Interpretation of Dreams with Owen Hewitson as plus-one, and another one, on Interpretation Between Unconscious and Parlêtre, Roger Litten being the plus-one, this cartel being in fact international).
Sometimes a cartel may be set up in haste; for example, in my area, we had last year what we call lightning or flash cartels after the terrorist attack which occurred in Nice; in the aftermath, two cartels were organised, gathering colleagues who were in charge of people they met in the emergency centres set up by the city hospitals. Some members gave a contribution in a round table during a public meeting scheduled beforehand on the theme of “the war today”; they talked about how to take care of these people from a psychoanalytical orientation (considering that behaviour therapists were extremely active, with a lot of marketing on social networks, bringing advices like: breathe quietly, distract yourself quickly etc, and buy our program on the internet).
Another example: we also had a lightning cartel on “The speaking body”, in order to prepare last year’s Rio WAP congress. We met three times, and three members out of five displayed their work during an evening public meeting organised by our local group representing the School.
So, some flexibility isn’t forbidden regarding the time frame, as well as the number of members, for we follow Lacan’s first indication, when he established that a cartel should have from three to five members, plus one.
A cartel may also be set up to organise a conference or a debate about a book or a film or a topical issue (like autism for example), sometimes in original places like a cafe, a library, a bookshop, a cinema or a theatre hall. Then, the cartel is a tool used to talk about psychoanalysis and have people talking about it, and to create connections with a fresh public such as students, scientists, teachers etc.
I also mention clinical cartels, like those we have in institutions dedicated to applied psychoanalysis (like the CPCTs).
I recently heard about a Greek cartel dealing with the question of exile, and the clinical practice with refugees.
2. The function of the so called plus-one
The cartel’s structure is made to avoid getting bored or just fascinated and crushed by the knowledge of someone, which is often the case in groups with a leader, where you also have people who always take the floor and others who never dare to do so. As everyone knows, these groups are a privileged place for rivalries, conflicts and inhibitions.
Besides, the four seeking to form a cartel choose another member, called the plus-one, who, as Lacan put it, “can be anybody” but he or she “has to be someone” for he is the person “in charge of the selection, discussion and of the outcome to be granted to everyone’s work” (Founding Act of the Ecole Freudienne de Paris). He has a function of knotting between the members, which gives existence to the cartel, then after some time (one or two years, sometimes less), the plus-one will untie, unwind the cartel. Through the plus-one function of tying and untying, this device anticipates the Borromean knot.
The plus-one has also to stand in a sensitive position : he is neither a master, nor a subject supposed to know (an analyst), nor a scholar with a constituted knowledge. He has to be a small leader, as J-A Miller called him, a minus-one in fact, for he has to be present as a divided subject.
As the opposite of a large group, which as Freud has demonstrated, relies necessarily on the identification with a leader – “a primary crowd is an assembly of people who all replaced the ego ideal by the same object ” – identifications inside the cartel are rather horizontal ones, from one member to another, and not to an idealised leader.
The plus-one has to incarnate a position of non-knowledge, and that is obviously something quite difficult to achieve. J.-A. Miller made a link between this position and the hysterical discourse, which puts the division of the subject at the command post. He also said the plus-one has to be a provocative agent who “comes with question marks”, who relaunches everyone’s elaborations, each cartellisand being in a master position. On the other side, the participants have to be in a position of masters. The plus-one highlights each member’s “unique feature”, so that the members produce knowledge from their own specific experience or academic training, from their “insignia” said Miller, for example from the experience of working with autistic children, or having studied philosophy, or being a physician or whatever. In fact, that was the principle of Bion’s military small groups.
According to Eric Laurent, the plus-one function may also be conceived as an interpretative one, but in a specific way. Indeed, the plus-one isn’t there to interpret what people say in the cartel meetings. But J-A Miller says that he had “to insert the subject effect in the cartel”, which is different from aiming at the subject’s division.
Laurent recalls a point Lacan highlighted in Seminar II: Themistocles got the right answer to an event, when he decided to fight the Persians at Salamine. The order he gave to move the fleet out of the Pirée harbor was the right interpretation. “To give the right interpretation at the right moment, that’s what the analyst has to do” proposed Lacan. In the same way, the plus-one is expected to give the right answer at the right moment. What does that mean? Lacan sheds light on that point when he links the plus-one function with the hole dimension, with reference to the Borromean knot. Indeed, the plus-one has to ensure that each member will face the “hole in the knowledge”, and thus allow a whirlwind to take form.
Lacan calls the cartel’s circular setting a whirlwind – un tourbillon- and he states (in that same talk he gave on cartels in 1975) that “desire is linked to a notion of hole, a hole where many things are coming to whirl”.
What is a whirlwind or a whirlpool? According to Wikipedia, it is a swirling air or fluid flow, vertically oriented and produced by the meeting of opposing currents. Thus, a whirlwind or a whirlpool implies an axis and an orientation impulsing the swirling movement. In a cartel, it’s the hole in the knowledge which vacuums, and thus arises desire. Lacan proposed that “it is around something which clears a hole that the unconscious gets distributed”. Hence, the title of our congress: “About the unconscious” (autour in French, which could also be translated by “around”), a title which, as Lilia Mahjoub wrote in the argument for the congress, is pointing out the hole around which occur the formations of the unconscious.
In that conference on cartels I mentioned before, Lacan reminds us that the unconscious is “aspirated” by this hole Freud called urverdrängung, primal repression. Thus, the plus-one function might be understood as the one which enables the mobilisation of each member’s desire.
3. Peggy Papada asked me to stress the question of “what function the product has, insofar as it feeds back into the life of the School “.
Let’s start with the production, with the bit of knowledge which may, for one participant, come out of the cartel meetings. Lacan stated that a cartel work “can only be a production, the production of a writing to be exposed, while exposing oneself”. My reading of this indication Lacan gave us, is first of all that the work carried out does not lead to a collective product, but drives each member to a personal elaboration. Secondly, this elaboration, this writing, has to be released inside the cartel; then the plus-one may possibly propose and encourage the member to expose his production to a larger audience, or to get it published in one of our Newsletters or journals. But, in my view, this shouldn’t be a requisite; what should prevail aren’t the superego’s injunctions to produce something, but desire, which implies to take into account that everyone is progressing at his own pace.
I agree with Peggy Papada when she makes a link between the production and the School’s life and this leads me to my last point :
4. The cartel is part of the School and there are affinities between the cartel and Lacanian psychoanalysis:
The cartel is a method of studying which is akin to psychoanalysis, although it isn’t the place to analyse oneself or your colleagues.
What are these affinities made of? The cartel achieves a knotting between speaking and body; it sets up a tension between them which is at the heart of an analysis, as well as of a cartel. Indeed, the participants have to make the effort to move their bodies to the place where the cartel will meet (even if it is a computer screen), where they will get the opportunity to take the floor.
Then the cartel’s work requires time, the necessary time for each one to elaborate his question – although it is for a limited period of repeated meetings – and a time during which each member teaches the others from his own specific knowledge.
Thus, it is an experience which as such, seeks to generate a new (piece of) knowledge, and get some light out of it, if not an awakening.
The cartel is a place where the desire for knowledge may bring to production a lively elaboration, sometimes to a surprise which, if the cartellisand is in analysis, will perhaps lead to a discovery (une trouvaille).
Lacan established a direct link between the cartel, the cure and the practice, when he said: “The cartel continues, with an après-coup effect (a hindsight view effect), first the analysis’ work, then the praxis’ work”. In other words, what is at stake is the articulation between reading Freud or Lacan and reading your symptom. But the cartel is also linked to the School: registering the cartel with your name and your topic of work realises a direct link to the School.
In my opinion, the cartel can be regarded as a password, for according to Lacan a password is “not that by what group members recognise themselves, but that which allows the constitution of the group”. And the cartel is indeed an original means of forming a group, which also opens the door to a work-transference towards the School, to the benefit of psychoanalytic knowledge.
The cartels are the School, and everywhere a cartel is at work, the School is alive. Being the School’s “basic organ”, as Lacan introduced it, the cartel is vital to the School’s very existence.
Then, Lacan invented the pass, which is the other vital organ of the school, along with the testimonies of the “Analysts of the School” (AS), and we can also add supervision as a third pillar.
If we conceive the School as a hole – and not as a whole – a hole in knowledge, the School expects the pieces of knowledge the cartel members may build and bring, in order to edge, to border this hole. Inside a cartel, each specific subject of work digs a hole in the knowledge and desire may emerge out of it.
At the core of the cartel, of the cure, and of the subject, exists a hole, as well as in the cure and at the basis of the subject, who is divided. Still, the cartel isn’t a hole, it is a place to elaborate from a hole, relying on the possibility given to each member to face the hole in knowledge.
The cartel is a respiration, the cartel but not without the cure.