It occurred to Lacan that to be too “good” at free association could mean the patient was too defended against the analysis (it also tended to suggest a greater degree of rehearsal––not freedom––in the speech). Week after week the analytic hour might be filled with resourceful verbal performance, and the analysis would lead nowhere and do nothing. This insight inspired what Lacan called the “variable session,” in which analysands who spoke too easily of themselves were simply cut off, sometimes within moments of lying on the couch, and the analyst announced, without explanation or apology, that the session was over. The intervention meant to ruin (maybe cruelly) the speaker’s fantasy of self-possession and return what had hitherto seemed the truth of his or her life to mere talking, talking found suddenly wanting. Something called “self- knowledge” is usually understood to be a central attainment of enlightened life, but sometimes it’s an impediment, something to be overcome.

[For more on Lacanian technique I recommend Bruce Fink’s Clinical Introduction. My own essay on the uses and misuses of self-knowledge, “On Not Knowing Yourself,” is newly up at LARB.]