Issue 64 Spring 2017 (Pages 47-53)
The Object Of Anxiety
Guy Le Gaufey
I will tackle the question of anxiety from a semiotic viewpoint in so far as Freud, in Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety, presents this affect as a sign the ego sends to himself when he faces a certain danger, mostly internal and instinctual. In the face of this kind of danger, a helpful ‘object’, the mother, is supposed to have regulated the situation previously. Now, she is no longer in sight and available, so that the child is overwhelmed with a feeling of ‘helplessness’. This occurs almost mathematically in Freud’s writing: take the ‘helpful’ away and you get the ‘helpless’.
That is why Freud characterises anxiety by considering the infant longing for this helpful object. He writes:
Anxiety [is] about something (Die Angst ist Angst vor etwas). It has a quality of indefiniteness [Unbestimmtheit] and lack of object [Objektlosigkeit]….
Its connection with expectation belongs to the danger-situation, whereas its indefiniteness and lack of object belong to the traumatic situation of helplessness (Hilflosigkeit) – the situation which is anticipated in the danger-situation.
The ‘lack of object’ refers clearly to the expectation of the ‘helpful’ object, but the previous ‘indefiniteness’ refers to the fact that the ‘something’ anxiety is about cannot be considered as something possessing unity and identity. If it were to have such qualities, it would be definite, and then we would have fear, not anxiety. We therefore need these two very different dimensions of lack – indefiniteness and lack of object – to get the Freudian clue regarding the ‘something’ of anxiety. So far, so good. But our question now is: if anxiety is truly a sign, what kind of sign is it (there are so many!)? How does it work? Are we going to consider it according to the definition Lacan borrows from….