Issue 13 (Summer 1998)


How does one produce something new?
What is the status of the new?

In the very act of posing such questions as essential ones for psychoanalysis to answer, there is already implied a particular orientation to its theory and practice. In the first place there is implicit to the very articulation of these the notion that psychoanalytic work is not concerned with a ‘remembrance of things past’ which would amount to a simple rehash of this past, a view which in its turn has profound implications for any understanding of those central concepts of transference, transmission and interpretation. One might add that, in the genesis of every human subject out of vagaries of the past, the ’hole’ will always be greater than the sum of its parts.
Quite apart from the effect that applying oneself to these questions has on any orientation with respect to the least notion of subjectivity and the possibilities for clinical work, they can only invigorate the theory itself, ensuring its salvation from the transfixing clutch of Orthodoxy, the soulless perpetuation of a theory leading to the ’dispiriting formalism that discourages initiative by penalising risk’ … so much decried by Lacan. Insofar as this journal is concerned it is the spirit of that questioning which unites the various authors even if their application of the questioning makes for their difference. In this regard the present issue finds representations of these which covers the fields of both the clinical and the cultural and their intersection. …Continue reading

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THE LETTER 13 (Summer 1998) pages 1-25

Part One

The Anxiety-Neurotic Depression


Four types of neurotic depression according to Freud

This paper deals with the question of neurotic depression from a Freudian point of view. This means that I will try to isolate some elements towards developing a theory about the neurotic depressions that could have been Freud’s own theory – because, as you know, Freud himself did not develop an explicit theory on this point. For this purpose I have collected together a number of remarks on depression which are to be found scattered throughout his work. These remarks could be compared to a kind of latent thought from which it should be possible to construct a manifest Freudian theory of the neurotic depressions. With Lacan we could say: a theory of the depressions within the structure of the hysterical discourse. In what I have been saying up to now, some of the crucial points in every psychoanalytic discussion of the depressions are already implied.

The first point is that from the very beginning, even before his invention of the psychoanalytic discourse, in his so-called pre-analytic period, Freud made a clear-cut distinction between two kinds of depressions: on the one hand, neurotic or hysterical depressions – on the other hand, psychotic depression or melancholia. Freud maintained this structural distinction…

THE LETTER 13 (Summer 1998) pages 26-38

Part Two

A Purely Hysterical Depression?

A purely hysterical depression without obsessional mechanism

Previously, I explained that sexual depression of the anxiety-neurosis type does not have a psychic or symbolic etiology, (related to Oedipus, castration and so on) – but that it corresponds to a psychic lack or a lack in the signifier, with a direct transformation of the real of sexual jouissance. I also pointed out that ‘melancholic’ depression at the end of the analytic experience of the neurosis has another kind of real etiology, the identification with the real of the object (a).

But of course not all of the neurotic depressions are of a purely real type, – in some there is also an important symbolic contribution to their etiology. I mentioned for instance that psychoanalysis after Freud has tended to reduce almost all of these symbolic depressions to the obsessional type, that is, the result of oedipal ambivalence towards le Nom-du-Pere, the signifier of the Name-of-the-Father or the dead father. In the obsessional depression the death-wish against the loved father is turned against the subject itself. In contrast to the anxiety-neurotic depressive mood, these obsessional depressions do not constitute a real limit or nucleus, structurally inherent to the hysterical discourse. Obsessional depressions are only a kind of symbolic or even imaginary dialect: the dialect of hate, grafted onto the underlying…


THE LETTER 13 (Summer 1998) pages 39-49

Reading Lacan over the years I have often found myself, like Joxer in The Plough and the Stars in a state close to intoxicated perplexity. ‘What is the moon and what is the stars?’ are however questions which occupy me less than ‘What is the subject?’. Obviously one can address this question to the widest possible forum of experience but in Seminar VIII it is anchored to the issue of transference, and is linked repeatedly to the fundamental fantasy. The most striking feature in these repeated references is that this subject, the subject of the fundamental fantasy is a fading or vacillating subject.

The term ‘fundamental fantasy’ itself has an archaeological ring about it which would have pleased Freud. Even more poetically perhaps, Lacan’s desiccated algebraic formula $*o evokes in its strict neutrality those grey Japanese paper twists which when immersed in water, blossom into myriad multi-coloured flowers. Beneath the proliferating wealth of fable, myth and legend, beneath the multiplied scenarios of daydream and story, are we not to imagine this seemingly static formula, unvarying and absolute, yet capable of engendering almost infinite permutations? And it is not simply our fantasies and our creativity that this formula subtends. It magnetises the most disparate of biographical data, shaping it according to the inexorable curve of unconscious desire. For all of us as for Alcibiades, despite apparent contradictions, what is at stake always in the successive high points of our lives is as Lacan says ‘the same supreme point where the subject is abolished in his fantasy, his agalmata’.

Fantasy then, far from being the idle fluctuations of the imaginary can be said to constitute the fundamental object of psychoanalysis, which is the status accorded to it by Laplanche and Pontalis in their valuable article Fantasy and the Origins of Sexuality. In the seminar on Transference Lacan takes for granted a comprehensive grasp of fantasy itself, focusing instead on the strange position of the vacillating subject. Regretfully therefore, I will leave…



THE LETTER 13 (Summer 1998) pages 50-68

The Freudians appear to have been outstripped by a modernity which they contributed in fashioning, and by a femininity which up till then had not dared to be spoken or to show itself, which besides they were amongst the first to bring to light; they had even given it a prime place in setting it at the centre of their clinical and therapeutic project. They feel out of their depth to see displayed in broad daylight what constituted one of the knots of repression for them and so, some of them at least, question themselves about their responsibility in this ‘return of the repressed’, astonished, sometimes shaken, to meet a bisexuality for which their theoretical struggles must have paved the way, and which corresponds to their most daring hypotheses, on the first street-corner. Could it just be the most recent and the most provocative disguise /unveiling of a never-mastered hysteria? They find themselves, sometimes in spite of themselves, at the place of the elder or ancestor, a position which in a way they have always occupied and even claimed as theirs, powerlessly witnessing effects of their teaching that they had neither foreseen nor wanted, at least in that form. There’s no doubt that a certain modernity is overtly inscribed on the other side of their discourse which nevertheless authorises it implicitly, even to the finest detail. This complex relation should not worry them because it constitutes an opportunity and a sort of challenge that it’s up to them to rise to, like a travel invitation perhaps permitting them to make new discoveries. Nevertheless, a pure discussion of ideas is not what is called for here, rather they should go back to what constituted their point of departure, meaning the clinical research which is the hallmark of their originality.

The psychoanalytic clinic is defined according to the more or less broad range of defences against the feminine position and what this conveys and implies, that is to say, a radical difference which we associate…

THE LETTER 13 (Summer 1998) pages 69-81

There is nothing doctrinal about our office. We are answerable to no ultimate truth. We are neither for nor against any particular religion.

Introduction: Lacan and Religion

Lacanian psychoanalysis has strong theological overtones. Witness Lacan’s concept of the ‘name-of-the-father’, his epistemological triumvirate of the Real, the Symbolic and the Imaginary orders which remind us of the Trinity. Indeed, in Desire and Its Interpretation2 he relates the Trinity to the Oedipus complex and its three moments. Clinically there are three structures – neurosis, psychosis and perversion. He describes his expulsion from the International Psychoanalytic Association as an ‘ex-communication’. He talks of the Other, and in The Formations of the Unconscious3 he instructs us to go out into the world ‘as apostles of my word, to introduce the question of the Unconscious to the people who have never heard it spoken of, words reminiscent of Christ’s injunction. He holds that in the beginning was the Word, which has echoes of St. John. There are innumerable other examples we could cite. Critics have pointed to the ‘high Priesthood’ of Lacanian psychoanalysis. Throughout, Lacan seems to be saying re: his position on religion: ‘It’s for me to know and you to find out’.

Lacan’s epigrammatic and enigmatic allusions to religion are scattered throughout the corpus of his works, from Desire and Its…

THE LETTER 13 (Summer 1998) pages 82-93

‘Ambivalence, ambiguity, duality, dichotomy, bifurcation – these are the kinds of nouns customary when analysing Stevenson’ writes Frank McLynn in a recent biography, noting also that ‘the Stevensonian divided self is overdetermined at a number of levels’. Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh in 1850 of strict Calvinist parents, and it is this religious background that offers the first clue to his lifelong preoccupation with duality. Calvinism posits a number of radical oppositions, such as predestination and free will, faith and works, grace and nature. In Calvinist terms, the fall of man is so total he is incapable of mitigating, let alone reversing, its sinful effects. Good works and outward manifestations of righteousness are worse than useless if seen as paths to salvation, serving only to mask corrupt wishes and desires. Calvinism as such, embodies a radical suspicion of human motives and a keen awareness of the possibilities of human duplicity. It is perhaps not surprising therefore that some have seen in psychoanalysis its secular equivalent. However, as I hope to indicate, there are other reasons why Stevenson’s preoccupation with duality and ‘doubles’ is of interest to psychoanalysis.

Towards the end of 1885, in the space of ten weeks, Stevenson’s most sustained meditation on the double theme was ‘conceived, written, rewritten, and re-rewritten’, to be published the following January. In his essay A Chapter on Dreams, he traces the origins of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to a dream that supplied him with two key scenes for the novella. In the same essay he acknowledges what he calls his ‘Brownies’ as the unconscious springs of his inspiration. The Brownies are ‘the little people who manage a…

THE LETTER 13 (Summer 1998) pages 94-105

I cannot help feeling that there is much in the circumstances today that mirrors the psychoanalytic encounter proper. I come before you today as an unknown quantity, a foreigner, to speak in a language which I have no guarantee will be understood and which besides, is a language which is not my own but the language of the Other, as any of you who have even the barest knowledge of Irish history will know. I come to a rendezvous where there is inherent to it the demand that Lacanian psychoanalysis in Ireland give an account of itself. This question, ‘What have you to say for yourself?’, is only a variation of the question inaugurating any psychoanalytic encounter: ‘What brings you to this place?’. The ‘place’ that this question contains is, of course, a crossroads (eine Kreuzung). You all know that in the Oedipus story it was at the meeting of three roads, the three ways of walking, that the hero meets with his destiny and that the contour of these roads traces out the signifier which his father had sought to efface, the Greek letter ‘lambda’ the first letter of the name-of-the-father, Laius Labdacus. In arriving at that place Oedipus unconsciously names himself as son of a father, situating himself in a lineage. The entirety of the myth of Oedipus revolves around a difficulty in the articulation of a name, – the mark of his father’s insignia being at the origin of his impediment, – the difficulty in the articulation of his feet, which is repeated in the mutilation to the articulation of his eyes. Here, something is…

THE LETTER 13 (Summer 1998) pages 106-116

There are people who suddenly lack their support for existence and who, instead of sinking into depression, begin to hate the one whom they think has this support; that he has taken or stolen this support from them; and in this hatred, they find the support they need to exist.

For a while during my childhood, my maternal tongue was forbidden in my country. My first given name was also excluded simply because it could not be translated into the master language. My first given name, unlike my surname (Baumstimler), was thereby excluded because it had no German equivalent. If the given name represents it’s bearer and the surname indicates family tradition, then the intention to eliminate, at all costs, ‘small differences’ between the given and the family name was achieved (in my case) by doing away with the French first given name and by ‘translating’ the second (Pierre) into Peter. Is this not a way of wiping out, at the level of the given and family names, the small difference which simply voids the importance of the father’s name as difference? The National Socialist state run by Hitler occupied a piece of French territory which he thought he could easily integrate into Germany according to the principle of the recognition of nationality by right of possession. This state had simply forbidden the use of the French language and changed all names which could remind them of this history. The name is not just a word. Its particularity lies in the fact of its having no meaning other…


THE LETTER 13 (Summer 1998) pages 117-124

The two notes that follow formed the basis of a discussion with psychiatric and nursing colleagues in St Vincent’s Hospital who at that time (1981) were rather skeptical about the clinical relevance of Lacan’s work. They are reproduced here for the convenience of students who claim they still help clarify the way in which Lacan re-articulates Freud’s case histories.

The note on Dora is based on Intervention on transference (1951) which has since been translated into English. That on Hans gives a very condensed account of Lacan’s exhaustive commentary on the case in the still untranslated seminar on ‘La relation d’objet’ (1956-1957).

* * * * *


The Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (1905) was Freud’s first extended account of the process of a treatment using the psychoanalytic method; the first also in which he tried to deal with the question of his own position – the position of the analyst – in such a treatment. Here, for the first time in the literature, the problem of transference and counter-transference emerged as being of decisive importance in the success or failure of an analysis.

The psychoanalytic method invites the patient to say whatever comes into his or her head without omitting anything or without trying consciously to organise the order in which the material is presented. It further instructs the analyst to adopt a position of listening with a neutral ‘floating attention’. These two recommendations seem to set the stage for endless hours of aimless and pointless monologue by the patient. However, the free association of the neurotic in the presence of the analyst…


THE LETTER 13 (Summer 1998) pages 125-127

Is it misguided to write a ‘beginners book’ on a thinker as complex, obscure, fluid and rich as Lacan? It depends perhaps, on to whom the book is addressed.

In the opening to the French edition of the Ecrits, Lacan states that ‘the style is the man’. He then wonders is it ‘the man to whom he addresses himself?’ He further states that ‘in language our message returns from the Other in inverted form’ and again he wonders about something. This time he wonders ‘if man was to be reduced to the place where all our discourse goes back to, wouldn’t the question itself then be whether there is a point in asking him at all?’ Indeed, what is the point? What is the point of interrogating and working through all these difficult and obscure Lacanian texts? What is the point of asking him? …

THE LETTER 13 (Summer 1998) pages 128-129

In Lacan for Beginners, Darian Leader has made a Trojan attempt to condense the mighty corpus of Lacan’s life’s work into a entertaining concoction suitable for general consumption. This is the formula of the excellent Icon books series, their wide appeal being the ability to wed distilled knowledge to a cartoon-like format, without pretending to be other than what they really are – an aperitif.

In fact, the imaginative illustrations by Judy Groves uncannily portray Lacan as he really was, a larger than life character reminiscent of the heroes and villains of D.C. comics fame.

Opening with a brief biographical sketch, Leader firmly situates Lacan’s influences in the intellectual milieu of Pre-war Paris, but acknowledges his grounding in the French Psychiatric tradition. The core of the book is revealed in its cover illustration, in Lacan’s fascination with how the human infant comes into being as a desiring subject. The genesis of the ego is outlined as a central theoretical preoccupation of both Freud and Lacan, the disjointed images of the fragmented body silently cautioning us of the concept’s own theoretical primitiveness. …


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