Meet Paul Allen Miller

Since 1999, the Sigmund Freud Foundation and the Austrian Fulbright Commission invite American scientists for a study visit which is combined with a visiting professorship on a university in Vienna. We introduce you to 2024's grantee Paul Allen Miller, who arrived in March.

What does it mean to you, being here at Berggasse 19?

It is a bit of a dream come true. I first came to Vienna as graduate student in 1983. One of the first places I went to was Berggasse 19. I have been interested in Freud for many years. I read him for the first time when I was in high school. I have also long had an amateur interest in Vienna as the cradle of European modernism. I have a strong interest in the music and art of the period. So all in all it is a wonderful opportunity.


Why did you apply for the Fulbright-Freud Scholarship?

The short answer is that I was invited to. I had not known about the lectureship, but I received an email from the Washington Fulbright office saying that given my scholarly interests I might want to apply. I had just finished a six-year term as the Vice Provost for International Affairs at the University of South Carolina and was looking for a new challenge. I was also starting a new book project focused on rhetoric and the way it mobilizes the death drive, so this seemed the perfect opportunity. I knew that these awards were highly competitive, so when I advanced on my first application even though I was not the ultimate awardee, I decided this was something I should pursue again, and I was very happy to receive the award.


Can you tell us more about the research project you are pursuing during your stay?

I am currently doing research to complete my book, Truth and Enjoyment in Cicero: Rhetoric and Philosophy Beyond the Pleasure Principle (forthcoming Oxford). In it, I offer a fundamental re-examination of the relation between truth and enjoyment as understood in the traditional confrontation between rhetoric and philosophy in Cicero. His simultaneous advocacy of classical rationality and continued emphasis on the importance of performativity and enjoyment in language - on ratio as a desire (cupiditas) and force (vis) in the real - situates him at the crossroads of reason and the unconscious, where rhetoric meets truth and desire. Where the modern, post-Cartesian concept of truth, abstracts truth from subjective experience of both the speaker and the hearer, for Cicero truth is inseparable from our experience of it, and it is precisely the possibility of their separation that he criticizes in works like De Oratore where he seeks an ideal reconciliation between rhetoric and philosophy, truth and enjoyment. My book looks at the problem of enjoyment (jouissance) as central to understanding the differend between rhetoric and philosophy. I distinguish “pleasure” from “enjoyment,” with pleasure always being balanced by the constraints of the reality principle and hence always open to rational substitution and deferral. Jouissance, however, is a drive that leads beyond the utilitarian calculus of balancing pleasure against unpleasure, seeking a form of radical experience that can be both sublime and destructive, an experience that calls into question the trusted verities of the reality principle.


You share Freud's great interest in antiquity. Can you let us know what connection you draw between Psychoanalysis and antique writing?

My work has always been influenced by psychoanalysis. My second article was on Vergil’s Aeneid and it used Civilization and its Discontents to examine the role of certain types of female characters within the poem and the suppression of other types. I am greatly influenced by the French psychoanalytic tradition and have written extensively about Lacanian psychoanalysis as a tool for understanding ancient literature and philosophy. I have also written about the importance of antiquity for the thought of the French feminists, Derrida, and Foucault, all of whom were engaged with psychoanalysis in both positive and critical ways.


Enjoyment in antiquity and enjoyment today: do you see big differences in different eras?

For me, the unconscious is not a constant. It is not a throbbing pit of instinct that broadcasts a single message, rather what is repressed depends very directly on the society in which the unconscious finds it place. To take a classic example, Freudian analyses of modern cultural artifacts often identify what are termed phallic symbols. These are embodiments of phallic power and desire that are nonetheless sublimated or censored in some way, and hence they manifest in symbols that require interpretation. The cliché is the cigar. In ancient Rome, phalloi were everywhere on open display. Young boys wore phallic amulets around their necks to protect them from the evil eye. The Vestal Virgins tended the cult of this god called Fascinus. I can show you Roman chandeliers that consisted of tiny oil lamps with winged phalloi where the flame shot from the end. What does it mean in this context to speak of a phallic symbol or to say that anything here is unconscious or repressed? It is ridiculous. Repression certainly existed in ancient Rome, but it was organized around different axes. So, the unconscious is not a constant, rather it is culturally constituted. But Freud in fact says nothing different. You cannot simply apply a key to a dream and produce an automatic interpretation, you must always situate the dream (or any other text) in the analysand’s associative chain, and that chain itself is made up of culturally constituted signifiers, of language and its meanings in a given context.


What are your current personal enjoyments in Vienna?

I have been walking in the Lainzer Tiergarten, strolling round the Ringstrasse, going to the opera, and attending other musical events. I am looking forward to spending more time in the Museums.


Please let us know more about your general fields of interest as a scholar.

My PhD is in Comparative Literature and I have a Masters in Classical Philology. In Comparative Literature, one is supposed to have three literatures and mine were Latin, Greek, and French. I am currently working on improving my German. I also have a strong interest in philosophy and I essentially approach Freud as a philosopher or cultural theorist. One of the things I have enjoyed about the programming at Berggasse 19 is that it has brought me more into contact with analysts rather than just scholars. I think this is important. Psychoanalysis is a clinical practice as well as a body of scholarship. Responsible students of it need to be aware of both sides of the equation.


You take part in our scholarly event program. Can you let us know which events at the Sigmund Freud Museum you enjoyed the most so far and to which you look forward?

Right now, my main focus has been on weekly lectures on Freud and Antiquity.  These are for obvious reasons close to my heart.  But the recent program on Dori Laub and his recording of testimony from survivors of the Shoah was also quite important for me.  I think in our focus on data and information we often lose track of the importance of experience.  One of the questions Laub’s work brought to the fore in my mind is what is the ontology of the past within the present.  We often act as though the past had an objective existence.  That it was somehow out there somewhere.  But where? How?  What does that mean?  You cannot touch it as the past.  You cannot see it as the past.  That only happens in the present.  The past exists because of our experience of it, and the records we make of that experience.  It has no existence outside of that.  This is true even of the ancient world.  It continues to exist only insofar as it continues to speak to our present existence and thus makes possible the world to come.


Paul Allen Miller is Carolina Distinguished Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature at the University of South Carolina and Distinguished Guest Professor of English at Ewha Womans University. He specializes in exploring intellectual relations between the ancient world and modern philosophy and theory, with an emphasis on psychoanalysis.

Professor Miller is editor emeritus of Transactions of the American Philological Association. He is the author of Lyric Texts and Lyric Consciousness (1994), Latin Erotic Elegy (2002), Subjecting Verses: Latin Love Elegy and the Emergence of the Real (2004), Latin Verse Satire (2005), Postmodern Spiritual Practices: The Reception of Plato and the Construction of the Subject in Lacan, Derrida, and Foucault (2007), Plato’s Apology of Socrates (2010) with Charles Platter, A Tibullus Reader (2013), Diotima at the Barricades: French Feminists Read Plato (2015), Horace (2019), and Foucault’s Seminars on Antiquity: Learning to Speak the Truth (2021). He has edited fifteen volumes of essays and has published more than 100 articles. His latest book, Theory Does not Exist: Comparative Ancient and Modern Explorations in Deconstruction, Psychoanalysis and Rhetoric will be published this spring.

For four months beginning in March 2024, he will serve as the Fulbright-Freud Visiting Lecturer of Psychoanalysis during which he will teach the course “The Subject of Enjoyment in Antiquity” at the Institute for Classical Philology at the University of Vienna and finish research on his new book, Truth and Enjoyment in Cicero: Rhetoric and Philosophy Beyond the Pleasure Principle, the first major psychoanalytic treatment of the subject.