Acheronta  - Revista de Psicoanálisis y Cultura
On Heidegger to Lacan
An Interview with William J. Richardson, S. J., Ph. D.
With te participation of Mario L. Beira Ph. D.,
Sara Elena Hassan M.D., psychoanalyst

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SH: Mario, would you like to introduce Dr. Richardson?

MB: It’s my pleasure to do so. William Richardson was born and raised in the United States and went to Europe, to Belgium, for his doctoral training in philosophy at the Catholic University of Louvain. He was already an internationally known Heidegger scholar in the decade of the 70’s when, after training as a psychoanalyst in New York City, he began to interest himself with Jacques Lacan and his return to Freud. Dr Richardson is today a Professor of Philosophy at Boston College as well as a practicing psychoanalyst in Boston where he lives. I will also add that Professor Richardson is a Catholic priest and a member of the Society of Jesus for many years.

My first question concerns his philosophical formation. I’ve always been curious on why he decided to travel to Europe, and to Louvain in particular, for his training in philosophy. Secondly, I am wondering if he would be willing to share with us how it was that he decided to do his doctoral dissertation on Heidegger and under the guidance and supervision of Alphonse De Waelhens in particular.

WR: I originally had hoped to study theology in order to teach theology at an American University. I was then told by my superiors that they needed someone to teach philosophy. So when I went to graduate studies it was with the intention of studying theology. I had done four years of theology at Louvain, at the Faculty of Theology at the Jesuit Seminary, and was told that it would be a good idea to study philosophy in Rome. The Jesuit faculty of theology there had no connection with the university as such so that the university vouched for me in unknown quantity.

I was told by my superiors that I had to be prepared to teach metaphysics in a new seminary being build at that time in the United States. They needed a fresh faculty to teach there and I had to be prepared to teach metaphysics. It seemed to me that I could therefore not study theology and that philosophy had then to be studied in a contemporary setting. I learned, almost by accident, that the leading figure and thinker in the area of metaphysics, in whatever sense one may take that, was Martin Heidegger. So I developed at first a casual and indirect interest in Heidegger as a possible subject for research.

At that time the leading specialist in Heidegger studies, in the French language at least, was Alphonse De Waelhens. Professor De Waelhens had published his doctoral dissertation by then. It was an interpretation of Being and Time and, at that moment, the fullest and most articulate presentation of Heidegger’s Being and Time that existed in the French language. Since it was possible to perhaps study with him, under his supervision, I therefore began developing a more intensive interest in Heidegger. I visited De Waelhens before I left Louvain at the end of my theological studies with the intention of returning there. I grew convinced that there were good reasons for continuing to study in Louvain and with De Waelhens.2

During that year that followed, the year of Ascetical Theology, which is a form of spiritual formation that the Jesuits required at the end of a formation period, I spend much time reflecting on what precisely it was that I was interested in doing.

Another subject that interested me was the philosophical background of Karl Rahner, a German theologian who had been influenced by Heidegger. So during the summer of that year I visited Karl Rahner and spoke to him about working on some philosophical aspect of his work. I told him that I was interested in the problem of death and he was gracious enough to say: "Here behind me are all my notes on the philosophy and theology of death. If you want them they’re all yours. I am too old and too stupid to work on them any further". This was typical of Rahner, a profound and deeply humble man.3

At that moment that seemed very attractive but I discovered that Heidegger, who was at Freiburg, was going to teach the following semester, this was in the fall of 1955. I felt that if it were possible to receive permission from the University to do the first term of my graduate studies in philosophy at Freiburg, rather than in Louvain, and with Heidegger himself, that this would be a valid reason for studying Heidegger rather than Karl Rahner. It was an opportunity to see a major figure actually functioning at the height of his form. It was, I think, the last course Heidegger planned to give before fully retiring at Freiburg. The course he was giving then was on the "Principle of Reason"4.

The University of Louvain and its Higher Institute of Philosophy gave me permission to spend that first semester in Freiburg and so that’s what I did. And so it was by serendipity that I came to study Heidegger. All things being equal, I might well have chosen to study with Karl Rahner, who had been influenced by Heidegger. His Spirit in the World, one of his major works, was basically a Heideggerian view of the world as presented in Being and Time.5

These are some of the reasons for why I decided to work on Heidegger and with Professor De Waelhens who agreed to direct my work if I decided to continue at Louvain.

MB: How interesting. So it was, if I heard correctly, it was because your Jesuit Superiors ordered you to study philosophy that you ended up studying philosophy and ultimately Heidegger. You had at first wanted to study theology?

 WR: Yes. Ordered, that’s a harsh word for it Mario. But that is what they wanted me to do and that’s what I signed up for.

MB: I see.

WR: I would have preferred to study theology but that was not to be.

MB: So let us thank the Jesuits! Your doctoral dissertation on Heidegger was first published in 1963 and under the title "Heidegger: Through Phenomenology to Thought". I have always been deeply impressed by that work because, despite the fact that it was written during the early days of Heidegger scholarship, it is still, in my view, the first and only book that really provides a comprehensive, overall understanding of the trajectory of Heidegger’s project. You managed this even before Heidegger had passed away. I find that truly amazing and a testimony to the rigor of your work.6

How was it that you were able to produce such a manuscript so early on in the history of Heidegger scholarship? How did you manage such a comprehensive view? Was it the help of Heidegger himself?

WR: Through serendipity, if you wish. I had no idea of what I would work on in Heidegger. I knew that I would have a chance to hear him, possibly to meet him, at least to see him and to work with people who were experienced students of his. I found a place to live in Freiburg. It was in an old people’s home and mostly women lived there. I was there as chaplain, and I was succeeding another Jesuit who had been chaplain there the previous year who had finished his work but was still living there during the summer. He had been invited, because of his own work on Heidegger, to join a seminar led by Heidegger on Hegel’s Logic.

I met this man in the summertime and he was to be there the following year and so we spend sometime together. I really got to know him. He was a really enthusiastic person who was very ebullient and loved philosophy and loved to talk.

MB: His name?

WR: Cannot remember….. He would attend the seminar, this was in the fall of 1955, and would come back from his meetings with Heidegger and other members of the faculty who had been invited to attend the seminar in Heidegger’s home in Freiburg. There were maybe 10, 12 to15 maximum, who attended the seminar. He came home just full of Heidegger, full of what he said and the interpretations of Hegel. He was the first one to tell me that what De Waelhens had written about Heidegger was now depasée, and that Heidegger would insist upon his actual thought at the time, the academic year of 1955/1956.

So I heard from . . . Virgilio Fagone - I think that was his name, Fagone, who subsequently worked on the staff of the Universita Catolica in Rome.

At that time Fagone had finished his degree and was in Freiburg because he had been invited to take part in the seminar. He was a very, very brilliant guy, like a child exploring his Brave New World. So I began to hear about Heidegger from Virgilio. He was very generous and would tell me about what happened that day in the seminar and the differences about an earlier Heidegger as interpreted by De Waelhens and the actual Heidegger who corrected the question of whether Heidegger was an existentialist, which was De Waelhens’s assertion.

De Waelhens was basically a phenomenologist. He was a very competent reader of Merleau-Ponty, of Being and Time and certainly of Sartre. It was therefore a more Sartrean, or at least a more existentialistic approach to Heidegger than Heidegger would accept. So, from the very beginning, I was introduced to a later Heidegger, one that corrected, if not the earlier Heidegger, the interpretations of Heidegger available at that time.

So it was the fact that I was suddenly in a world where there were at least two periods, or at least two ways of reading Heidegger. One, the French one, which was basically an existentialist interpretation under the leadership of De Waelhens, and the second, a more philosophical and more practical interpretation of Heidegger in terms of the problem of Being as such. So it was in that sense that I began to take note, in my reading, of what Heidegger says when you read him, because there is a difference [between the two periods].

My first impression of Heidegger was of a thinker who had gone through at least two periods, and that none had been maintained until a certain and clear coherence developed in [and between] the two periods. I decided that the most useful way that I could put to use the opportunity that was given me was to try and decide on what to give whom in Heidegger in view of the period one was working on.

I went to see Eugen Fink, who was an assistant of Husserl and had become a student of Heidegger in the late 20’s when he first arrived at Freiburg. I spoke to him about the idea of maybe working on a study of Heidegger that would compare Husserl’s notion of phenomenology with Heidegger’s notion of phenomenology. And Fink said: " No, No. That’s too big".7

Then I thought about working on the notion of thought in Heidegger. Actually it was Fagone who suggested it to me when he invited me to supper one night. The notion of thought in Heidegger certainly appeared in Heidegger after the late period, so it would be interesting to see if it appeared and how it appeared in the early period. So I noted that as a possible study. That turned out to be decisive. So I talked with Fink and also with Bernard Welte, who was professor of what they call "Grenzfrage", a borderline subject between philosophy and Catholic theology.8

I also talked to others, such as the assistants of the professors, and asked the question of what they thought would be worthwhile exploring. These assistants were individuals who had already finished their doctorates and were then working on their habilitation theses. So I talked to all of these people as the end of the semester approached.

Heidegger would lecture every Friday, I think it was at 5 o ‘clock, and he was giving his course on the "Principle of Reason". I saw that outside of his door there were no lines

and I figured: "well, what can I lose? He can’t resent my naiveté". He could feel sorry for it or he could dismiss it. But at least, what would I lose if I met the lion at his den, sort of speak. So I screwed on my courage to go speak to him and decided to go in and see him with my broken German.

And he was very gracious to me. He could have just dismissed me but didn’ t. He really treated me like a Mensch, so to speak. I told him what I was interested in doing and that I was interested in working on his work. I told him then that three things appealed to me as a student [of his] and that I would be grateful if he would just react [to them].

One was a comparison of his conception of phenomenology and that of Husserl. I told him that Professor Fink suggested that that would be too large. And he said: "Oh yeah, that’s much too large." I also told him that I was interested in his essay "The Essence of Ground", where he speaks of the ontological difference, and asked him whether he had written anything else on the ontological difference. 9

He sort of rolled his eyes. All of the later work, for probably the last ten years, was around the notion of the ontological difference. And he said that yes, he had written other things that had not been published in that area. So I said, "then we better wait until they are published". "Yeah, I think so", he said.

MB: And the third topic was…?

WR: was the question of Thought [Denken]. I found traces of the notion of thought from Being and Time through the later work as I worked to find out what he meant by it. And he said: "Yes!" So I said: "Do you think that is really feasible?" And he said: "Yeah." And so I went and told De Waelhens of my conversation with Heidegger

MB: and he said…?

WR: He looked at me as if I was out of my mind and said: "Are you serious?" And I said: "Yes!" He also said that the later Heidegger was no longer philosophy but just poetry. In his own work he had established his reputation by articulating his conception of Heidegger’s philosophy based on the earlier period and I was interested in doing something that related to the later period, which for him was just sheer poetry.

So he fell deep in thought and shook his head and said: "Well, it’ s your decision. Are you really serious? Do you realize what you’re saying?". And I was of course going by what Heidegger said, so it wasn’t my word against De Waelhens it was Heidegger against De Waelhens about Heidegger. "Yes, that’s what I would like to work on!"

And he again shook his head and said: "Well, good luck. I’ll try to direct you the best way I can but I have to tell you now that I don’t think it’s a viable subject". And I came to realize later that maybe he saw, better than I did, well I don’t think he did, I think he really believed that the later Heidegger was just poetry and no longer philosophy.

It was only when I began to give him chapters to read that he saw the value of the research. By the time I had finished the earlier period, leading up through 1929, and saw that what I was doing was really headed in a direction that completely sabotaged his reading [of Heidegger].

To his credit, De Waelhens never mentioned the fact. He was supportive and encouraged me all the time and gave me very carefully analysed reactions to my chapters with rigor and courtesy and kindness. Again, he did this despite the fact that he saw, better than I did, that I was really sabotaging his position. There was a decisive moment in Heidegger’s development when Heidegger himself realized that the subject of Being and Time did not and could not work.

Eventually, I did not realize this until much latter, I saw that what I was doing was really undercutting the entire conception that De Waelhens had. And to his credit, he honored his task of being a critic and a patron and saw the value of the work.

As a matter of fact at one point, after I had finished the so call early period up until 1929, I was getting tired and just wanted to get back to the [United] States to teach and to just finish what had to be done from home. He told me at that point that I had sufficient work for a doctoral thesis and that all I had to do was to give him a month to process it. "But", he said, "you have developed a method that is satisfactory from my point of view. The earlier period has been worked through. You have worked through it and you have come up with something different. The earlier essays have been discussed, but now it is time for the later period".

He added that if I really wanted to do something that would be a real contribution then I should keep using the same method and continue on to the later period to at least clarify what happened, how the notion of thought developed and so on.

MB: On the question of thought, I now see more clearly how it is that you have come from Heidegger and the question of thought in Heidegger to Freud. Having read most of your published work, it now seems to me that what ties together your movement from Heidegger to psychoanalysis is the problem or question of thought.

It’s interesting that in your Heidegger book you decided to not treat the question of theology, the question of God in Heidegger. Not because there is nothing to say but rather, as you mention early on in the text, because there was in fact so much to say. You had wanted to study theology but yet the question of God was not treated there.

I am in fact recalling your having quoted a few lines from a poem by Dylan Thomas, Vision and Prayer, in your Heidegger book and that you decided to leave out the words "and prayer" from the title, citing it as "Vision . . .", with an ellipsis in place of the words "and Prayer".

Later on in your career you of course did broach the question of theology in Heidegger as well as the God question as it relates to Freud and psychoanalysis in light of Lacan 10

Sara, would you like to pose a question?

SH: Perhaps we ought to start addressing the question of psychoanalysis. Maybe it can be done through the question of thought.

MB: I agree. What are we to make of your passage from Heideggerian thought to psychoanalytic thought, and in particularly the question of the unconscious? The question of the unconscious is one that has preoccupied you for the last quarter century.

WR: I traced the first mention of thought, as distinct from phenomenology, as something that began to be given [in Heidegger] in 1930. It was not published until 1943. During this time the change that took place in Heidegger, whatever it was, was called "the Turn". Heidegger’s word is "Kehre." It involves a turn from the phenomenology that De Waelhens had developed to this notion of thought or the thinking of Being which characterized the later period in Heidegger.

That change, as I’ve said, took place between 1930 and 1943 and it could be depicted in this one essay called "On the Essence of Truth". Given the various forms of redaction there was no way for me to know what changes had been made between the 1930 text and the 1943 text finally published. All I had was the published text that was available. There were no pirated editions floating around, or at least not available to me. So I decided at that point that I would restrict myself to what had been published rather than trying to check out all possible manuscripts of the essay.11

There was no talk at that time of Heidegger publishing all his unpublished texts. In fact, when I met with him in 1959, he pointed behind him to an entire bookcase filled with the courses he had given. He said something like: "people want me to publish all that stuff. I can do that when I am an old man", he said, "right now I feel fresh and I’ll just move forward."

So there was no thought in anyone’s mind, as far as I knew, and as far as the cognoscenti knew, of it ever being published. So I figured it was a good risk to limit myself to what had been published at that time. I began reading the essay "On the Essence of Truth" and worked through everything chronologically that had been published, or was available or was soon to be published.

Heidegger had been suspended from the University in 1945 because of his involvement with the Nazi’s. He gave a course in 1952 after having been denazified or having gone through the denazification process.12

So in 1952 he returned to teaching after having been suspended since 1945. The course he gave in 1952 was called "Was heist Denken?" or "What is called or meant by thinking" or "thought." And there was all of the ambiguity about the calling. "Who does the calling?" "What is the calling?" And so forth . . . 13

Anyway, I eventually had a manuscript of around 1,100 pages containing about 5000 notes so I figured I had to stop sometime and to limit myself to what was explicitly contained there.

When I came home to the States I had therefore already met Heidegger. I was actually introduced to Heidegger by Professor Max Muller. Max Muller had become a good friend of Virgilio Fagone and he in turn introduced me to Max Muller.  Max Muller became a sort of second mentor to the dissertation. Anyway, it was Max Muller who helped me to meet with Heidegger. He wrote him a letter of introduction telling him about my work and that it was worth paying attention to. 14

So through the good offices of Max Muller, just before I began to edit the text for presentation of the doctorate, in the spring of 1960, I [again] went to see Heidegger. He apparently liked my work and responded favorably to it. I had sent him a summary of twenty-five pages of my large manuscript. He pulled it out of his [desk] draw and I saw that it was marked red and blue, like an American flag, every page, and with circles around it. And I immediately thought "good Lord. Here we go."

He accept it and actually only made 2 suggestions, both of which I considered minor.

Firstly, he said that I had used the word subjektivité, and that that pertained to Descartes. He said that when you talk about Leibniz, in the German tradition, the word should no longer be "subjektivite " but "subjectite". So it is no longer subjectivity but subjetness. At least that’s what I understood at the time. That was the only serious criticism he had, which was fair enough. I was grateful to him and glad that there was nothing more serious than that.

At any rate, by reason of his suggestions I presented my dissertation defense as soon as possible, at the end of the exam period in the spring of 1960. I was then invited to do what they call in Louvain the "aggregation". It was a way of becoming an honorary member of the Faculty. It required a publication of a book such as the "habilitationsschrift". So it was a sort of 2nd degree or second level of a doctorate. That was by invitation only and it was by the invitation of the faculty. At any rate, I was invited to the aggregation, called at that time agregé, and was committed to come back and finish up the "aggregation".

The next two years were basically devoted to preparing the aggregation and to editing the text. I presented the first part of it alone as my doctoral thesis and then the second part became the book as I began expansion of the thesis into the book.

When I came home, having finished the book and the book having been published, or about to be published, I began to be interrogated about the relevance of Heidegger. I was questioned, in particular, by the members of the world of what was then called "Existential Psychoanalysis". Rollo May and Leslie Farber were the two major figures in America at that time. They asked me to explain what Heidegger meant by his work. 15

Rollo had done work on Binswanger, a big presentation on existential psychoanalysis. Binswanger, for all intent and purposes, introduced the notion of Dasein into the field of psychiatry and psychology and developed a form of psychotherapy that was basically Husserlian. His formation was largely in Husserl. He was a fine and admirable person and his work was fine work but based on the phenomenology of Husserl.16

Rollo May had published his own book based on Binswanger by then and asked me to join a seminar dealing with Heidegger. I did and that got me involved with the field of scholars dealing with existential psychoanalysis. 17

Then I was asked to teach seminarians. This was in 1963 when the seminarians and students all over the United States were caught up in the sweep leading up to 1968 and that exploded in America in 68, in Berkeley. But 1963 was the year that [John F] Kennedy was shot, shortly after that [in 1968] Martin Luther King was killed. The Beatles came to America then [in 1964] and Bob Dylan began to sing. This was the world in which I was asked to teach.

The seminarians were of course part of that world and they felt the restlessness of the time. I had a good Jesuit friend who was an enormously intelligent man and a very wise man but his health made it impossible to be an academic, to go through graduate studies, and he was the spiritual father of the seminarians. I was sent there extensively to do research but was told upon arrival that they had just lost two professors and I was their only replacement. So I was committed and caught up in teaching.

And I got along with the students. To this day some of my closest friends were my students who were troubled late teenagers or in their early twenties then and who were feeling the pulse of their times with lots of early 20 problems.

MB: And you were teaching them what?

WR: I was teaching them philosophy. I was told that I was the replacement for the professor in the history of philosophy and for the professor that taught them natural theology as well.

MB: When exactly did you turn to Freud?

WR: Late in the sixties. I had to devote time counseling students. It was very weary physically. I was helping them deal with their academic problems and was using a mixture of psychotherapy with theology. So I decided, in 1970, that if I could be accepted for psychoanalytic training, it would be helpful. I then went to the William Alanson White Institute in New York for my training. I made all the necessary moves and cut all ties to philosophy.18

I later went to work at Austen Riggs in Massachusetts, just north of New York.19

At the end of 1974-1975 [while at Austen Riggs] I was introduced to the name of Lacan. It was by Ed Podvoll, the grandson of a surgeon who had studied medicine at Columbia [University]. Podvoll had spent 10 years at Chestnut Lodge and was intrigued by the difficulties of Lacan and the practical implications and the application of Lacan.20

In the meantime, a former student of mine, John Muller, came aboard [at Austen Riggs]. He was a child of the sixties and had spent three years at an Indian reservation. He had been interested in Indian folklore and Indian imagery and was even made an honorary Indian, of all things.21

MB: What year was this?

WR: This was 1975. That’s when I began to hear about Lacan, this " impossible man". I was told "Lacan is a big name. He is impossible to understand but he is the big name".

But let me finish with Podvoll, who first introduced me to Lacan. He was so enthusiastic about Lacan that right now I would be suspicious of him. This was the end of 1974, start of 1975. He, as director of education [at Austen Riggs], had the freedom to decide on how the fellows - these were all post doctoral students, post graduate people in psychiatry and psychology – should train during their four years of research and clinical work.22

Ed Podvoll was so convinced [about Lacan] that he wanted to rearrange the entire training program at Austen Riggs. This was in 1975. Austen Riggs was a place that was traditionally ego psychology. David Rapaport and Erik Erikson were the two chief figures there.

Anyway, Podvoll became more and more extreme in his lifetime. So much so that he set up this entire program for training the fellows and, by the time we began to teach it, just before the academic year began, Ed Podvoll got involved with a former patient, which was forbidden, and he was dismissed.

So there we were, John and I, stuck, so to speak, with a new training program for the fellows, although we knew nothing, basically, about Lacan. John knew less than I. Anyway, that’s how it began for us. I was also committed to teach graduate courses at Fordham University in New York. So John and I began to co-teach a course on the "function and field of speech and language in psychoanalysis"23

MB: So, how were you able to begin to think of the work of Lacan in light of your past training in theology and Heidegger? Was there a clash? An epiphany? or experience?

SH: This might perhaps be the last question because I would also like to ask a question about the current situation in psychoanalysis in the United States.

MB: Well, perhaps one or two additional questions. This material seems interesting and important, at least to me.

WR: John and I began to teach together. We would prepare our courses together for both Fordham University and for the fellows [at Austen Riggs]. And it was in this way that we went through those essays of the Ecrits that were then published.24

MB: In 1977.

WR: Yes. And at the same time we got to know Claudia, one of Lacan’s former students and analysands, who had learned about our work. So we met with Claudia and began to think that if we wanted to really do this what we ought to do is go through a Lacanian analysis. So this brings us up to 1978. Lacan, around that time, came to America to give a series of lectures.25

Podvoll and I, this was just before John Muller arrived at Austen Riggs, went down to hear him at Yale [University]. Podvoll was completely enthusiastic. At the end of the lecture, which had started with the Law School auditorium filled with 500 people and was left, at the end of an hour, with about 25, including Podvoll and myself, I turned to Ed and asked: "Well, what do you think Ed?" And he answered: "Well, the man is either a genius, or a charlatan or he is mad". That was Podvoll’s impression of Lacan’s lecture.

But by this time we were committed to teaching Lacan. It was soon after that that Ed left us and that John came aboard. So we had to make do and to prepare introductory courses on Lacan’s Ecrits. And we decided that if we wanted to continue this we would have to get ourselves analyzed [by a Lacanian] so we could give it a go.

In that year there was a Petites Journées on transmission, maybe some remember, and Claudia was there. She came and introduced us to Lacan, although I had already met him on a previous occasion. So she arrived at the Journées, at the opening session, and we came over to her when we saw her. She introduced us to Lacan and told him that we would like to meet [with] him. And he said: "OK, Monday morning at 11 o’clock". This was now Friday evening and we said that we would be there. He came [to the meeting] wearing a bathrobe and in his in slippers.

MB: This was at his house?

WR: Yes, which was also his office. And he came in and said: "Alô, de quoi s’agit il?" So we told him and he said: "OK, come back Thursday at 1." So that was it. John was with his wife and he had planned to travel with her and she was already unhappy with the idea of spending time away from traveling.

I was planning to travel to Rome. John and I both changed our plans to have lunch with Lacan. Silvia was there and we also met Judith, his daughter. Jacques-Alain Miller was supposed to have been there and Lacan himself. So we had a private lunch with Lacan. He offered us a shot of Jack Daniels during lunch. It was very gracious and very generous of him.

It was at that point that I was invited to lecture at Oxford [University] the following year, in the fall of 79.26

I decided that this was my chance, you know. I had to break obligations with patients. So I was scheduled to lecture in Oxford and to also come to Paris and thus had a year and a half off before going back to teaching in the [United] States. This was around the time that the Ecole Freudienne de Paris collapsed, so that was my second exposure to Lacan.

But by this time, because of the involvement with John, we decided that we could make a book out of the collaboration we had done on the 9 essays of the Ecrits, which we did. Our book has since been translated into French.27

So by that time I was into Lacan. I did not get into analysis with Lacan but with someone whom Lacan did not suggest but of whom he did approve. After this I returned to America and to teaching and to seeing patients and so on.

SH: Who, then, was Heidegger for Lacan?

WR: Heidegger was for Lacan an important person. He published in 1956, in La Psychanalyse, a very good translation of Heidegger’s Logos essay. The essay of course deals with the notion of language, that is, the late Heidegger.28

Jean Beaufret had published "On Humanism" and was a patient that Lacan took into psychoanalysis. Lacan found Heidegger’s notion of "speaking language" very appealing and used Heidegger as a propaedeutic; he says so [early on] in Seminar XI, which took place in late 1963 and in 1964. Heidegger himself, however, was not sympathetic to psychoanalysis. 29

In 64, Lacan got into topology and went his way alone. In 59 he worked on das Ding or La Chose.30

MB: Did you think Heidegger understood the unconscious?

WR: Heidegger was not sympathetic to Lacan’s understanding of the unconscious. He did not know much about Freud. He did work on clinical cases and had some [idea of] clinical experience. His knowledge [in this area] came mainly from Medard Boss. The relationship between Boss and Heidegger became a friendship, rare in that age.31

Boss found Heidegger’s analysis of Dasein very attractive. He got to know Heidegger ’s thought around 1940 and they began to take trips together after they got to know each other. Heidegger was near Saint Moritz and regularly traveled to Switzerland to teach there at Boss’s request. 32

As for Heidegger’s understanding of Freud, it was pathetical. Heidegger criticized Freud ’s inability to pose the term of possibility, he felt that Freud had failed to understand what Being or "to be" meant. Heidegger of course can’t account for certain phenomena related to the unconscious. 33

MB: Obviously – Sara had wanted to pose a question about the status and future of psychoanalysis in the United States.

SH: Yes, how do you see psychoanalysis in your country? What is the current situation and what do you see as its future there?

WR: Psychoanalysis is moribund and has lost its hold on the American audience. While the work of Lacan appears as a possible source of new life for it, the fact remains that Lacanianism has not caught on with the American psychoanalytic community. It has had and continues to have an impact in our Universities, in the field of literature and literary studies in particular. Lacan’s return to Freud as such remains an open question in the United States.

Dublin, Ireland, June 21st, 2005.
Mario L. Beira :
Sara E. Hassan:


1 The interview, an initiative of Dr. Sara Elena Hassan, was conducted on June 21st 2005 in Dublin (Ireland) following an international psychoanalytic conference on Joyce and Lacan. All notes that follow are by Dr Beira.

2Richardson’s reference is to Le Philosophie de Martin Heidegger, published by Alphonse De Waelhens (1910 – 1981) in 1942. Professor De Waelhens later developed an interest in psychoanalysis, publishing a book length study on Lacan’s interpretation of the psychoses in 1972.

3 Karl Rahner (1904-1984), considered by many the most important Catholic theologian of the 20th Century, was a German Jesuit. His voluminous publications and writings reveal the influence of diverse theological and philosophical sources, including Thomas Aquinas and Martin Heidegger.

4 Der Satz vom Grund, Heidegger’s 1955-1956 lecture course at Freiburg University. Text available as volume 10 to his Gesamtausgabe, the official edition of Heidegger’s complete works. Published by the Vittorio Klostermann publishing house in Frankfurt am Main, the collection now numbers more than 100 volumes.

5 Richardson’s reference is to Rahner’s doctoral dissertation, published in 1939 as Geist in Welt.

6 Heidegger: Through Phenomenology to Thought, preface by Martin Heidegger. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff (1963), a thick tome of 768 pages.

7 Eugen Fink (1905-1975) was an associate and aide to Edmund Husserl. He was appointed Husserl’s private assistant in 1929 and remained close to Husserl until his death in 1938.
Widely recognized as Husserl’s best authorized interpreter during his lifetime, Fink began to criticize central aspects of Husserlian phenomenology in the early 1950’s, moving closer to Heidegger’ s and the latter’s "ontological method".
Fink co-taught a seminar on Heraclitus with Heidegger during the winter of 1966/1967 whose text Lacan was to highly praise and recommend to his students in 1973. See Lacan’s intervention during the Sixth Congress of the Ecole Freudienne de Paris in Grande Motte, near Montpelier, on November 2nd of 1973 (published in volume 15 of the Lettres de l’Ecole Freudienne de Paris).

8 Benhard Welte (1906 – 1983) was a Jesuit priest and religious philosopher who was appointed to the philosophy chair in Christian Religion at Freiburg University in 1954

9 Richardson is apparently referring to "Vom Wesens des Grundes" written in 1928 and published by Heidegger a year later as a contribution to a Festschrift for Edmund Husserl. The essay is available in volume 9 of the Gesamtausgabe.

10 Richardson has addressed the God question in Heidegger and in psychoanalysis in a number of essays, including "Heidegger and God – and Professor Jonas" in Thought, 40:13-40 (1965); " Psychoanalysis and the God-Question" in Thought (1986), 61:68-83; and "` Like Straw’: Religion and Psychoanalysis" in Eros and Eris: Contributions to a Hermeneutic Phenomenology. The Hague: Kluwer Academic Publishers (1992), pgs 93-104.

11 Vom Wesen der Wahrheit, lecture pronounced by Heidegger in 1930 (Bremen). Heidegger apparently revised the text several times, delivering it on various occasions, under the same name title and in different cities, during the next few years. The essay was first published in 1943. The final version of the text may be found in volume 9 of the Gesamtausgabe.
Heidegger’s 1930 lecture is not to be confused with Vom Wesen der Wahrheit. Zu Platon’s Hohlengleichnis und Theatet, his winter semester course at Freiburg University in 1931-1932 which has been published as volume 34 of his Gesamtausgabe.

12 For Richardson’s position on Heidegger’s involvement with the Nazi’s, see his "Heidegger’s Fall" in From Phenomenology to Thought. Essays in Honor of William J. Richardson S.J., edited by B. Babich. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers (1995), pgs 619-629.

13 Was heist Denken? (What is Called Thinking?). Composed by Heidegger between 1951 and 1952 and first delivered by him during the 1952 summer semester. Its text was first published in Germany two years later, in 1954, and can be found in volume 8 of the Gesamtausgabe.

14 Max Muller (1906-1994) was a philosopher and disciple of Heidegger who taught at Freiburg University.

15 Rollo May (1909-1994) was an American psychologist and psychoanalyst who stood as the leading spokesman for an existential and phenomenological interpretation of Freudian psychoanalysis during the decade of the 50’s and 60’s.
Leslie H. Farber, who died in 1981, was an American psychologist. He was a former Chairman of the Washington D.C. School of Psychiatry and a Director of Therapy at the Austen Riggs Center in Massachusetts. His book The Ways of the Will, published in 1966, was highly praised, including by members of the American and International psychoanalytic community.

16 Ludwig Binswanger (1881–1966) came from a Jewish family in Osterberg (Bavaria). He served, for 45 years, as medical director of the Bellevue sanitarium, a famous psychiatric hospital in Kreuzlingen (Switzerland) founded by his grandfather.
Binswanger studied under Jung and Bleuler at the Zurich Burgholzli in 1907 and, in March of that year, accompanied Jung in his famous visit to Vienna to meet with Freud. Freud and Binswanger became and remained lifelong friends following their 1907 meeting. On this point, see the 1992 publication of the Freud-Binswanger correspondence.
Binswanger is considered the father of Daseinanalyse, a term he adopted in the 1940’s. His efforts to ground psychiatry within a phenomenological anthropological framework reveals the influence of both Husserlian and Heideggerian philosophy. Heidegger was to openly disagree with Binswanger’s interpretation of his philosophy and Binswanger in turn spoke of his "productive misunderstanding" of Heidegger.
The influence of Husserl, as Richardson suggests, was indeed more prevalent in the case of Binswanger. This held especially true during the first and last periods of Binswanger’s production. The depth of the theoretical impact of Freud on Binswanger, despite the fact that Binswanger had served as President of the Zurich Psychoanalytic Society in 1910 and that he claimed being unable to "manage without the unconscious", either in his "psychotherapeutic practice" or "in theory", remains a matter difficult to assess.

17 Richardson’s reference is to Existence: A New Dimension in Psychiatry and Psychology. New York: Basic Books (1958), the first book to provide English language readers with access to a representative selection of the work of European thinkers in the area of "Existential Psychoanalysis". Rollo May served as the main editor of the project. The book featured the work of Binswanger in particular.

18 The William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Psychology, from which Richardson graduated in 1974, was founded in New York City in 1946 by Clara Thompson, Harry Stack Sullivan and Erich Fromm. Denied acceptance into the American Psychoanalytic Association soon after its founding because it allowed psychologists to receive psychoanalytic training, it operates today as an independent psychoanalytic institute in the same city.

19 The Austen Riggs Center is a small open psychiatric hospital in Stockbridge (Massachusetts). It has retained a strong psychoanalytic orientation since it was founded in 1919.

20 Chestnut Lodge is a psychiatric hospital in Rockville (Maryland). Founded in 1910, it has a long tradition of offering intensive and psychoanalytically based treatment to individuals diagnosed with psychosis and other serious mental disorders.

21 John P. Muller received his doctorate in psychology from Harvard University and is a graduate of the Boston Psychoanalytic Institute. Muller is the author of Beyond the Psychoanalytic Dyad. Developmental Semiotics in Freud, Pierce and Lacan. New York: Routledge (1996). He has been associated with the Austen Riggs Center for a number of years and is today its Director of Training. Along with Richardson, Muller was a founding member of the Lacan Clinical Forum at Austen Riggs.

22 Edward M. Podvoll was born in 1936 and graduated from New York University Medical School. He trained as a psychiatrist at Bellevue Hospital in New York and was a graduate of the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute where he also served as a faculty member.
A former staff member of Chestnut Lodge Hospital and a Director of Training and Education at the Austen Riggs Center, Dr Podvoll later became a Buddhist monk and directed the "contemplative psychotherapy department" at the East-West psychology program at Naropa University in Boulder (Colorado).
Podvoll went on to found the "Windhorse Project" in Boulder as a result of his meditative experiences. Offering a new framework of treatment to individuals suffering from psychosis, its model of care is based largely on Buddhist principles and on insights developed by Podvoll in his book The Seductions of Madness: Revolutionary Insights into the World of Psychosis and a Compassionate Approach to Recovery at Home, published by Harper Collins in 1990.
Podvoll left for Europe soon after the publication of his book, completing an 11-year meditative retreat in a Buddhist monastery in France before returning to the United States and to Colorado in 2002 An updated and expanded edition of his book was reissued by Shambhala Publication in 2003 under a new title Recovering Sanity: A Comprehensive Approach to Understanding and Treating Psychosis. Described by its new publisher as "an underground classic", the book received highly positive reviews, including from members of the American psychoanalytic establishment. Dr Podvoll died of cancer in Boulder (Colorado) in December of 2003, at the age of 67.

23 American intellectuals were first exposed to the work of Lacan precisely through this essay, his now famous 1953 Rome Discourse, which appeared in English language translation by Anthony Wilden, with extensive notes and commentary by him, in 1968. See The Language of the Self. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press (1968). Lacan’s text reveals strong traces of the influence of Heidegger, particularly when he argues on behalf of the symbolic constitution of human subjectivity.

24 Nine of the essays found in Lacan’s Ecrits were published in English translation (by Alan Sheridan) in 1977. The essays chosen for translation and publication then stood as a partial selection of the twenty-nine major texts and six introductions and appendices which make up the entire text of the Ecrits, published in 1966. The first complete English language translation of Lacan’s Ecrits is scheduled to appear through W.W. Norton & Company in January of 2006, translation by Bruce Fink.

25 Richardson’s reference is to a series of lectures Lacan delivered in some of the more important universities in the American northeast in the winter of 1975. Lacan spoke at Yale University in New Haven (Connecticut) on November 24 (Kanzer Seminar) and November 25 (Law School Auditorium). He also lectured at Columbia University in New York City a few days later, on December 1, and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston on December 2nd. See "Conferences et entretiens dans le universities nord-americaines" in Scilicet, volume 6/7 (1975), pgs. 7-45.

26 Professor Richardson served as Martin D’arcy Lecturer at Oxford University in England in 1979.

27 Besides Lacan and Language: A Reader’s Guide to the Ecrits. New York: International Universities Press (1982), Muller and Richardson’s collaborative efforts also include The Purloined Poe: Lacan, Derrida, and Psychoanalytic Reading. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press (1988).

28 See Martin Heidegger, "Logos (Heraclit, Fragment 50)", translated by Jacques Lacan, La Psychanalyse, Volume I (1956): 59-79.

29 Heidegger’s "Letter on `Humanism’" was a letter Heidegger penned to Jean Beaufret in Paris in the Fall of 1946 in response to a communication from the French philosopher which, among other things, asked Heidegger: " Comment redonner un sens au mot `Humanisme?’" (How can we restore meaning to the word `humanism’). The text of Heidegger’s response to Beaufret was first published in 1947 and can be found in volume 9 of the Gesamtausgabe.
Heidegger’s dictum "die Sprache spricht" (Language speaks) can be found in his October 7, 1950 lecture "Die Sprache" (Language), volume 12 of the Gesamtausgabe. A related thesis, Heidegger’s "Language is the House of Being", appears in his "Letter on `Humanism’".

30 Das Ding (The Thing) was first presented by Heidegger in the form of a lecture at the Bayerischen Akademie der Schonen Kunste on June 6, 1950. The text of Heidegger’s presentation was published a year later and is today found in volume 7 of his Gesamtausgabe (pgs 163-181)
Lacan made heavy use of Heidegger’s essay in his seminar on the ethics of psychoanalysis (1959-1960).
Leaning on Heidegger’s phenomenological analysis of Das Ding, Lacan labored to provide Freud’s use of the concept with a new twist, retrieving it as central for psychoanalytic theory in the process. Consult Lacan’s lectures of December 16, 1959 and January 27 of 1960 in particular.
Like Heidegger, Lacan was to appeal to the fact that the French word for Thing (Chose) derived from the Latin "Causa", a link which seems to have determined the title he selected for his November 7, 1955 lecture in Vienna "La chose freudienne ou Sens de retour a Freud en psychanalyse", later included for publication in his Ecrits.
Lacan was to return to Heidegger’s essay and to the German philosopher’s celebrated analysis of a pitcher or vase as "Thing" found therein in the penultimate lecture of his 9th seminar in Paris. In it, we find Lacan calling on Heidegger’s doctrine of "Gerviert" (Four Fold) to treat the question of space (latum, longum et profundum), categories alone open to Dasein, the Shepard of Being.
All of this obviously hints at the importance of Heidegger for grasping the philosophical underpinnings of Lacan’s return to Freud, including his very conception of psychoanalytic treatment.
The very title to Lacan’s 1958 presentation at Royaumont on the "direction of the cure" (la direction de la cure) serves to betray the influence of Heidegger over him. For here we find Lacan appealing to the term "cure" rather than "traitement"(he had invoked the latter term to provide his essay on the possible "treatment" of psychosis with its name) and as he furnishes the principal text where he was to detail his conception and vision of psychoanalytic care with its title.
Lacan’s use of the word "cure" rather than "traitement" appears to harken back to Heidegger’s Being and Time, to section 42 of the text in particular, wherein the German thinker had called on the little-known but influential Graeco-Roman myth of Cura to describe the basic structure of man, Dasein, as Sorge (Care).
The influence of Heidegger seems present throughout the entire essay, including its last paragraph where we find Lacan reflecting on "the final Spaltung [splitting] by which the subject is linked to the Logos, and about which Freud was beginning to write, giving us, at the final point of an oeuvre that has the dimension of [B]eing, the solution to `infinite ’ analysis, when his death applied to it the word `Nothing’".
Logos and Being are of course terms associated with Heidegger. The same holds true for the word `Nothing’ when capitalized. For let us recall the fact that it had been precisely in his essay on Das Ding that Heidegger, for the first time, began to describe death as "the shrine of Nothing, that is, of that which in every respect is never something that merely exists, but which nevertheless presences, even as the mystery of Being itself".

31 Medard Boss (1903-1990) was a Swiss psychiatrist who founded the daseinanalytic method of psychotherapy. He received psychiatric training at the Zurich Burgholzli under Bleuler and also studied with Carl Jung for a ten-year period. Boss had a number of psychoanalytic sessions with Freud in 1925 and went on to analyze with Karen Horney in Berlin. He received clinical supervision by Hans Sachs, Otto Fenichel and Ernest Jones, among others. Boss appears to have first learned of Heidegger through Binswanger and established contact with the German philosopher soon after, in 1947. The two men quickly became friends and began vacationing together, traveling to Greece in 1962.

32 Richardson’s reference is to Heidegger’s Zollikon seminars, a series of lectures Heidegger delivered between 1959 and 1969, at Boss’s invitation, before psychiatrist in Zollikon (Switzerland). The text and protocols of these lectures was first published in Germany in 1987 under the title Zollikoner Seminaire, Protokolle – Gesprache – Briefe Herausgegeben von Medard Boss. Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann.
The seminar reveals Heidegger criticizing Freudian metapsychology in general and Freud’s view of the unconscious in particular. Boss himself had already claimed in his 1957 book Psychoanalyse und Daseinsanalytik that the Daseinanalytic approach to treatment had no need for the Freudian unconscious.
Richardson has offered a powerful response to the daseinanalytic critique of the Freudian unconscious in light of Lacan in his essay "Heidegger among the Doctors", in Reading Heidegger: Commemorations, edited by John Sallis. Bloomington: Indiana University Press (1983), pgs 49-63.

33 Richardson has attempted to account for the phenomenon of the unconscious in view of Heideggerian philosophy in his classic and important essay "The Place of the Unconscious in Heidegger" in Review of Existential Psychology and Psychiatry, volume 5(3): 265-290 (1965).
For an essay which treats the question of what Heidegger could have been to Lacan, and what Heideggerian philosophy can offer Lacanianism, see Richardson’s "Truth and Freedom in Psychoanalysis" in Understanding Experience: Psychotherapy and Modernism, edited by Roger Frie. London: Routledge (2003), pgs 77-99. Professor Richardson is currently engaged in researching and evaluating Lacan’s formulations on the ethics of psychoanalysis, a project he hopes to publish in the near future.

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Número 22 - Diciembre 2005