Displacement as a psychoanalytic and political category

Perhaps the key of all practical psychoanalytic concepts is that of displacement. it signifies a perception at an angle, a vision of own life and experiences as torqued by personal values, laden emotional tensions and blind spots, and thus driven into a topographical neighbourhood. Displacement means, practically speaking, that when we hear the other person describe their experiences and perceptions, we ought to assume that the true focus of their pain, joy or desire (more generally, of their ‘jouissance’ in Lacanian terms) is never exactly whether they believe them to be, but somewhere else, as the ‘aim always fails’. If a person describes their intense fear of life, perhaps their real worry is in the realm of sexuality. If they describe a competitiveness in business, perhaps their aliment is in the vicinity of their vulnerabilities, their low self-esteem, or their troubled loving relationships. The real target of psychotherapeutic intervention, in other words, is usually somewhere in the near or far neighbourhood of the problem that the person describes as the specific area for psychotherapeutic assistance. The interpretation of displacement encapsulates all of the psychoanalytic interpretative skill, or art, and is capable of founding entire new understandings of symbolism in the way we process our immediate or raw experiences.

Displacement in politics is particularly relevant because the flow of power which comes with political positions offers several highly attractive options for the displacement of personal issues. Modern psychology of power has showed, by case studies of some of the most influential politicians throughout history, that frequent forms of displacement of a sense of personal inadequacy include extreme sexual behaviour, tendencies to dominate others in both unusual and unnecessary ways, or extreme attempts to be liked by the masses. These forms of displacement invite their own specific psychoanalytic interpretations and help diagnose the structural problem within the politician’s personality. However such diagnoses, when speculated about publicly, seem biased as they usually lack the necessary benevolence and a genuine desire to pinpoint the humps of pain in a person’s experience.

Displacement is closely connected with humour. A healthy way to implement deliberate displacement is to metaphorically warp the object of speech or presentation into a joke: such displacement is conscious and characteristic of symbolically highly powerful and resourceful individuals. Most of us who do not have the resources for artistic humour warp our experiences of pain and what Lacan called the unbearable presence of the raw, symbolically unprocessed ‘Real’, into various alternative views of reality which others might find odd. Working with people thus always involves working with displacement, and the psychoanalist  will take it as completely expected that our views of what really bothers us ‘miss the target’, either by a small, or by a very large distance.

Does this, then, mean that the psychoanalytic treatment of displacement required ‘adjusting the aim’ so that one is able to pinpoint the source of one’s anguish accurately?

Not so. Psychoanalysis is there to intervene in the interplay between the Real and the Symbolic to help the person develop additional symbolic resources to ‘understand’ the raw Real, or to create their own symbolic world. This world is the only reality that we can have, and the only one which matters, because it founds our quality of life. Whether this will be achieved by adjusting the aim so that the person is one’s own psychoanalist, or by leading the person towards the blooming field of various creative symoblic receptions of their raw experiences, is immaterial.

For a politician, adjusting the aim means sharing in the jouissance of others in more or less authentic ways, thus not in the ways one or one’s immediate surroundings believe the citizens experience jouissance, but in ways which the citizens themselves report about their jouissance. In this respect, the political profession, as far as a contribution to the quality of life is concerned is similar to the psychoanalytic profession, and that is the  reason Freud called both psychoanalysis and politics ‘impossible professions’.

However, the above does not change the fact that Freud believed displacement to be at the core not only of psychoanalysis, but of our entire lives, and that undrstanding displacement today is very much alike to understanding our lives and the decisions we make as intrinsically metaphorical.

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