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Lacan on Drug Therapy

From “A Theoretical Introduction to the Functions of Psychoanalysis in Criminology” (1950):

In Lacan’s essay on crime and narcotics, Lacan asks himself about the validity of drug therapy. The very framing of Lacan’s question of drug therapy seems to mock anti-drug enthusiasts, “To overcome these repressions, should we resort to one of those narcosis procedures so oddly brought into the news by the alarms they set off in the virtuous defenders of the inviolability of consciousness?” (117) Consciousness is already violated by the unconscious, so there is no need to protect consciousness from narcotics on account of idealizing consciousness’ inviolability.


But Lacan does not thereby approve of narcotic therapy, which is “the confused mythology in the name of which the ignorant expect narcosis to ‘lift the censorship’” (118). For Lacan the method is necessary to the proper result, so “it is less the content of its [the censored material’s] recovery than the mainspring of its [the censored material’s] reconquest that constitutes the efficacy of the treatment” (118). The proper psychoanalytic method requires a consistent dialogue whose stable point can be moved, and narcotics will only evade the initial stable point, so “reality... can appear only through the progress of a dialogue that the narcotic twilight can but render inconsistent” (118). Lacan clearly and authoritatively dismisses the legitimacy of the use of drugs in analysis, “Let us not, then, seek the reality of the crime or of the criminal by means of narcosis” (118). Lacan is also concerned that narcotics will cause a psychotic break in anyone with a psychotic structure.

As a supplemental argument, Lacan insists, “Narcosis, like torture, has its limits: it cannot make the subject confess to something he does not know” (118). Fair enough, but cannot torture bring subjects to their limits such that they learn something new about themselves? And cannot drugs bring subjects to their limits such that they learn something new about themselves? It seems that Lacan has, like his followers in the SUNY Buffalo CSPC, conflated the sedative effects of narcotics (depletion of ego libido) with the decentering effects of narcotics (intoxication of ego function), and so has summarily dismissed drugs as uniformly sedative in therapy.
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