The Letter Issue 66-67 (Autumn 2017/Spring 2018)


In the summer of 2017 Patricia McCarthy stepped down as editor of The Letter, a role she had filled since 2013. As the summer 2017 issue was a special issue in tribute to Bill Richardson it’s only now that I have the opportunity to thank Patricia for the enormous time and effort she has devoted to The Letter, over the last four years in particular. Issues 52 to 64 bear the stamp of Patricia’s tenure as editor in the serialisation of Cormac Gallagher’s translation of Christian Fierens’ The Psychoanalytic Discourse: A Second Reading of Lacan’s L’étourdit, a valuable resource for anybody attempting to get to grips with this challenging but essential work. Also, her commitment to the work of the members of the Irish School for Lacanian Psychoanalysis (ISLP) has served to support and encourage the work of the School and is something I intend to continue. I am glad to say that Patricia has not fully ‘retired’ from The Letter and will be continuing to lend her support as a corresponding editor.

This double issue of The Letter represents the proceedings of the conference entitled Why was psychoanalysis founded by an emigrant? held on the 9 th December 2017 in Marino Institute, Dublin. The conference was hosted by the Dublin psychoanalytic study group New Studies on Hysteria in collaboration with the École Pratique des Hautes Études en Psychopathologies, Paris. The name of the group comes from the text they have been studying over the last three years, Charles Melman’s Nouvelles études sur l’hystérie, which has been translated by Helen Sheehan.

The title of the conference makes us hesitate on two levels and these hesitations were voiced on the day. Firstly, the question of whether we can speak of a ‘founding’ of psychoanalysis: while this may be open to debate, I think we can certainly speak of an origin; of an emergence of a new way of thinking about humanity and a desire to cultivate this new approach against all odds. From this point of view I think we can ask if there is something specific to the status of emigrant that would be a foundation or support for such a development.

And the other doubt? Was Freud an emigrant? As some of the speakers point out, Freud was certainly aware of how his Jewish status put him in a position of outsider but what most characterises the position of emigrant is the loss of a homeland, the loss of a foundation: precisely the position Freud found iv himself in on the death of his father. In a letter to Fliess he writes: ‘the occasion of his death has reawakened all my early feelings. Now I feel quite uprooted.’ 1 Indeed it was this uprootedness which prompted him to begin a self-analysis which culminated in his writing of The Interpretation of Dreams.

Notwithstanding these doubts, the enigmatic nature of the question posed for this conference has struck a rich vein as is evident from the wide range of responses presented here. Whether the focus is on exile and language or hysteria and the unconscious, the common themes to be found among these papers are foreign-ness, rejection, uprootedness, loss and alienation. Clearly there is a connection.

Freud’s early work with hysterics and his discovery of the relation between symptom and language is the subject of Stephanie Metcalfe’s paper while Malachi McCoy focusses on the force which necessitates this conversion from language to symptom, repression, and its corollary, the unconscious. Terry Ball’s paper also addresses the concepts of repression and the unconscious but via a discussion which examines the relation between three terms which Freud uses: reminiscence, remembering and reconstruction. The question of what founds the hysteric’s desire comes under scrutiny in Ros McCarthy’s paper as she traces the development in thinking from Freud’s notion of the drive and its aim for satisfaction to Lacan’s notion of hysterical jouissance as a jouissance deprived of the phallic signifier. Helen Sheehan also revisits the beginnings of psychoanalysis via a reading of Lacan’s Seminar on The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, underlining in the process the ease with which we humans come to reject foreign-ness.

The question of the origins of psychoanalysis prompts an examination of Freud’s own interest in the origins of humanity from Nellie Curtin. Here she demonstrates how Freud used his knowledge of myths and primitive cultures to inform, support and elucidate his theories. Further addressing the question of origins, Glenn Brady revisits an early Freudian term, ‘abreaction’ (working– off), and proposes that Freud’s founding of psychoanalysis was in itself an abreaction of the trauma of his move away from the clinic of the image. He also makes a link here between the hysteric’s position in relation to the father and the position Freud found himself in once he turned to psychoanalysis.

Freud, S. cited in Jones, E. The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud Vol.1. New York, Basic Books, 1957. p.324 1 v

Themes of foreign-ness, language, exile and up-rooting predominate in the papers of Barry O’Donnell, Paul Bothorel, and Guy le Gaufey. The psychoanalyst’s concern with what is experienced as strange or foreign in the speech of the subject is the focus of O’Donnell’s paper as he enquires into the Lacaninan term lalangue, itself the result of a stumble, a foreign product. Keeping the emphasis on language, Bothorel, following Kafka, argues that exile is first and foremost in language and asks if psychoanalysis and emigration have an organic link and if undertaking a psychoanalysis can be viewed as a sort of emigration in that speaking necessitates loss. The concept of loss is also taken up by le Gaufey as he interrogates an apparent Heideggerian paradox with the help of an elucidation of Lacan’s concepts of ‘symbolic loss’ and ‘real lack’. Finally, Charles Melman, the proposer of the conference title, emphasises the ‘relation to the father’ as the key factor which links Freud, the hysteric and the emigrant. He proposes that the position of the emigrant is fundamentally a guilty one in relation to the father and suggests this was also Freud’s position. He also suggests that while this inability to deal with the castration of the father lies at the origins of psychoanalysis we must be aware that it still concerns psychoanalysis today.

Monica Errity