Affect is a weighty and consequential problem in psychoanalysis. People enter treatment hoping for relief from symptoms and their attendant unbearable affects. While various theorists and schools offer differing approaches to “feeling states,” emotions, and affects, Lacan, despite devoting an entire seminar to anxiety, often is charged with completely ignoring affect. This misperception stems in part from a caricatured understanding of Lacanian technique – a suspicion that it consists mainly of punning and interminable wordplay. And there is another, more sound reason for the accusation: the tendency of relational, interpersonal, and Kleinian models to locate truth in affects and regard emotions as inherently revelatory – as the most direct communications by and about the subject. By contrast, the question, “How did that make you feel?” is heard infrequently in the Lacanian clinic. Following Freud, Lacan believed that affects are effects. He shared Freud’s skepticism toward manifest emotional states, doubting not their importance but rather their transparency. The royal road to the unconscious is the deciphering of dreams and not the affects they produce. Nevertheless, Lacan’s views on affect increasingly diverged from those of Freud, offering much that was new.
Colette Soler’s pioneering Lacanian Affects: The Function of Affect in Lacan’s Work, translated by Bruce Fink (Routledge, 2016) is the first book to examine Lacan’s theory of affect and its clinical significance. While Lacan focused more on the structural causes of affect in his earlier theoretical elaborations, an initial reversal came in his seminar Anxiety (1962-63), where he deemed anxiety the only affect that “does not lie” because it refers to and partakes of the real rather than the signifier. Another reversal, Soler explains, culminated in Encore (1972-73), where Lacan declared that certain “enigmatic affects,” though puzzling to the subject, are carriers of knowledge residing in the real unconscious – a knowledge that is not on the side of meaning but of jouissance. Soler’s book is wide-ranging, covering affects such as shame and sadness, as well as many others we did not have time to discuss in our interview: hatred, ignorance, the pain of existence, mourning, “joyful knowledge,” boredom, moroseness, anger, and enthusiasm. Perhaps most fascinating is Soler’s chapter on Lacan’s enigmatic affects: anxiety (translated in the book as “anguish”), love, and the satisfaction derived from the end of an analysis.
Annie Muir kindly translated during the interview.