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Jonathan Foiles LCSW

Life with Lacan

Catherine Millot's new memoir offers a fascinating glimpse at Lacan the person.

A few years ago This American Life ran a segment by Ayelet Waldman on trying to understand her father. She had always found him fairly inscrutable, so when he handed her a stack of recordings of his therapy sessions thirty years earlier, she hoped to somehow get to know him through listening to them. My interest was piqued when she revealed that he had been treated by Albert Ellis, one of the founders of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). I’m not particularly interested in CBT, but there is something inherently compelling about hearing a master of the form at work.

Polity Books
Source: Polity Books

Waldman is somewhat let down to hear that her father talked about his usual obsessions with Ellis: the history of the kibbutz movement, communism, work stress. I still found their conversations fascinating, however, as a way to get a glimpse of the ‘real’ Ellis. Reading theory is one thing, but getting the glimpse of a landmark figure beyond the pages they wrote helps illuminate their work. I was reminded of Waldman’s piece recently while reading Catherine Millot’s Life with Lacan.

Millot had both a romantic and a professional relationship with Lacan, and her brief, lyrical memoir of times she spent with him reveals just a little bit more about the person behind such koan-like statements as “there is no such thing as a sexual relationship.” Unsurprisingly to readers of Lacan’s seminars, Millot recalls, “when I now try to grasp his being anew, it’s his power of concentration that I recall, his almost permanent concentration on the object that he was thinking of and that he never let go.”

Alongside such insights into Lacan’s obsessive concentration and his interest in Borromean knots, Millot also includes reminiscences of Lacan the man. Evidently he was a terrible driver: “his head forward, gripping the steering wheel, treating obstacles with contempt, as one of my women friends noted, never slowing down even for a read light -- and as for observing the right of way...well, let’s not go there.” After Millot has a dream in which she lost all her teeth, she begins to interpret it as an expression of castration anxiety before Lacan interrupts her and encourages her to make an appointment with her dentist.

The portrait of Lacan which Millot offers is of an insatiable mind, always open to the world with the unbounded curiosity of a child. Unlike Waldman, the reader comes away learning much about what made Lacan tick. Millot is also a fantastic writer, and any reader with even a passing interest in Lacan would do well to pick up a copy of her book.


About the Author

Jonathan Foiles, LCSW, is a therapist who works at a community mental health clinic in Chicago.