The proceedings of the Annual Congress of the Association for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy in Ireland (APPI), held last November at St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin are contained in this issue of The Letter. Its topic was Studies on Hysteria -100 years later.
Each contribution in this issue stands on its own and reflects its author’s/working group’s own area of interest. However, despite the autonomy and diversity of each contribution, central and essential questions were addressed and I think, partially answered in the course of the day’s exchanges.
My comments here are less a review of each article and more in the nature of an attempt to address questions raised and their partial solutions – with a most advised sense of this use of the word “partial”.
Paul Verhaeghe, in his prefatory remarks to his exposition, From Impossibility to Inability: Lacan’s Theory on the Four Discourses, highlights the conceptualisations of both Freud and Lacan as mutative for our thinking about the subject and his reality, Freud’s conceptualisations about myth and Lacan’s about the underlying structure. As he rightly states, the tension between clinical reality on the one hand and conceptualisation on the other is the most interesting part, but he implies that although undoubtedly exciting, it is also risky. We have to be careful about how we equate the greybeard or primal father – or indeed the maternal figure – with the Lacanian signifier. Despite the risks, it would seem that it is along this -interface between the imaginarisations of human situations and Lacan’s minimalist algebra or petites lettres that we can inform both ourselves and those who question us about our science of the subject.
Let’s take the feminist question as developed by Mary Cullen, Nellie Curtin et al in their paper Is Hysteria a Feminist Response or is Feminism an Expression of Hysteria? – this question within which the hysteric frequently shelters or, indeed, pauses for all of her lifetime. At the level of cultural or societal reality, there would seem to be no solution, no way out. At this level of reality of people’s lives, it is difficult for us to conceive that, for instance, an alcoholic man who is violent or sexually abusive towards his wife and children – like or worse than Charlo in Roddy Doyle’s TV play, The Family – has a question about his existence, the very same question as the hysteric. Though, admittedly, he may not access this question himself, if we, analytically, don’t even conceive its possibility, how can we ever admit its possibility?
Not wanting to shy away from similarity, though also underscoring clear difference between the above clinical scenario and psychoanalysis, it is given that psychoanalysis is the response to the hysteric’s question. It is, conceivably, too easy to highlight the imperfection of this response in some of the clinical accounts bequeathed to us in our established literature – some more imperfect than others as was, let’s say, Breuer’s to Anna O. Is this not itself a hysterical privileging of the hysteric’s discourse over the master’s discourse, rather than viewing them as mirror images one of the other, equal imaginarily, but both ultimately obscuring or obfuscatory, (in its literal sense of being on account of or for the sake of darkness)?
We continue to need to learn that the imaginary equalness of these discourses of the master and the hysteric, the one being the inverse of the other, permits only confusion, which in analysis has consequences. This is exemplified in the clinical case which forms the basis for the critique by Rik Loose, Gerry Sullivan et al in their paper entitled A Case of Hysteria. According to the authors, the case in question (which in turn forms the basis of a paper by Adam-Silvan and Silvan entitled Paradise Lost: A Case of Hysteria illustrating a Specific Dynamic of Seduction Trauma and published last year in the International Journal for Psychoanalysis (IJPA)) involves a regression or an about face in its emphasis of real events surrounding a seduction and the limiting of the hysterical structure to these external traumatic events. Despite the limitations and unsatisfactory nature of a commentary upon a commentary, it would appear that this particular analysis broke down around an intervention of the analyst’s which impelled the client into further again uriu mui more man natrea existea in relation to Him. The client’s sharp negation was accompanied by the emergence of a mixture of dismay, symptom and anxiety. Part of her retort was that her brother in fact owed her money. This, in conjunction with her ensuing demand that the analytic fee be lowered, suggests that the client came to identify her analyst with the fraternal figure. Soon afterwards the analysis broke down, begging the critical question as to whose desire was at stake here.
Finally, Cormac Gallagher’s paper Hysteria: does it exist? is an exception in this list of publications in that it was originally presented not at this congress, but in 1991, to a very different audience – the psychiatric division of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland. Taking our theme as hysteria however, its inclusion here is essential and opportune. But, given that the signifier cannot be effaced!, its substitution on ethical grounds for his and Mary Darby’s actual clinical presentation to the congress requires a mention. Precisely the same ethical issues which bedevilled Freud about whether or not, or on what grounds, one justifies publication of a specific identifiable case study beset us here. In light of the foregone commentary, the necessary omission from publication of Gallagher and Darby’s particular case study is given added piquancy, because its subject was a young man suffering from hysteria. Also, their presentation involved an attempt to link hysterical symptoms with Lacan’s co-ordinates of anxiety.
With the lapse of time since this, the first congress of our group, there is a certain effort involved in trying to retrieve something of the spirit of the day, something of the resonances of presentations and the tenor of the questions. Something of the unconscious undoubtedly emerges at a congress which has ebbed away long before the proceedings are submitted to print. What remains, however, is the recollection of people’s comments at the time that an increased sense of a psychoanalytic community was forged about this day.
I wish to thank my fellow Committee members for their contribution to its success: Nellie Curtin, Fiona O’Brien-Lavin, Rik Loose, Maeve Nolan and Rob Weatherill.