Editorial Janet Haney
Lacan delivered “British Psychiatry and the War” as a talk to his colleagues in France when he returned from a trip to England shortly after the end of the Second World War. During the Nazi occupation of France, Lacan had written nothing for publication, which makes this text all the more fascinating. His enthusiasm for what he had found led him to say: “the British victory is of a moral order, by which I mean that the intrepidity of its people rests upon a veridical relation to the real.” Not exactly a description of the Britain we are living in today, even as we watch the return of fascism all around us.
When Lacan returned to France he told his colleagues what he had discovered in the work of Wilfred Bion, John Rickman, and John Rawlings Rees and encouraged them to take their ideas out of the hospitals and into every corner of society in order to put this new knowledge, arising as it did from the terrible experiences that the fighting had forced into view, to good use.
He highlights the moment of psychoanalytical magic produced by Bion’s intervention at the Northfield Military Hospital: “… the doctor, taking the men to task as they themselves took him at his word, quickly enough finds the occasion for denouncing, in their own acts, this inefficiency which he incessantly hears them blaming on the functioning of the army, and suddenly the crystallisation of an auto-critique materialises in the group.” Suddenly, Bion glimpsed the instant of opportunity, grasped the possibilities it offered, and effectively extracted himself from the equation of command, which enabled the sick men in the hospital to begin to organise themselves into a functioning unit.
Éric Laurent’s commentary on Lacan’s observation about Bion’s interpretation underlines it as the moment that leads Lacan to invent the cartel as one of the key aspects of what will become his distinctive psychoanalytical school. But he stresses that Lacan “extracts the function of the leader from leadership itself”, and states that although “many of the traits of the cartel are drawn from the lessons learnt from Bion, it must be noted that these lessons are organised, ordered, decanted. Lacan does not take all of Bion’s developments.”
It has been fascinating, nevertheless, to go back to The Lancetof November 1943 to re-read Bion’s account, to seek out John Rees’s book, The Shaping of Psychiatry by War (1945), and to rediscover two psy-propaganda films by Carol Reed (The New Lot, 1943, and The Way Ahead, 1944) and the writings of American psychiatrist Thomas Salmon (The Care and Treatment of Mental Diseases and War Neuroses (“Shell Shock”) in the British Army, published in 1917). All of these works, written by men who had the courage to encounter the real and to interpret it, remind us of the importance of writing and speaking well in the attempt to put the real into words in such a way as to free the action of others who can then take better care of themselves.
It is also a pleasure to be taking the opportunity to print a revised English translation, previously only available on the website of the London Society, of Jacques-Alain Miller’s “Turin Theory of the Subject of the School”. Placing this in sequence with Lacan’s and Laurent’s texts allows us to appreciate the development of a remarkable logical trajectory with implications for mobilising individuals, small groups and the School at large. A psychoanalytic school “is not a bureaucratic affair destined to be regulated by a few people gathered to one side, a confabulation of chiefs. It enters into a process of formation, the very concept of which entails that it takes place ‘in the open’ because it has to be subjectivised by a community that can only constitute itself in the very movement of this subjectivation.”The concept of the School that Miller presents in his paper is that of a unique mode of social bond aligned with the analytic discourse: “the collective is nothing but the subject of the individual”.If it is true that “functions at the collective level are the same as those which deploy themselves in a subject’s life – ego, ego ideal, identification – then collective experience is an experience which can be interpreted.” And interpretation is the job of the psychoanalyst.