Issue 3 (Spring 1995)


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…Continue reading

Click here to order hard copy


THE LETTER 03 (Spring 1995) pages 1-20

Introduction In 1896 Freud proposed the theory that hysterical obsessive neurosis was caused by an actual sexual encounter between father and child. The first hint of a movement away from the seduction theory came on 8 February, 1897 in a letter to Fliess. His change of heart becomes explicit in the well-known letter to Fliess of 21 September, 1897 in which Freud presents his reasons for revising his hypothesis, although it was not until 1906 that Freud publicly renounced his seduction theory.

A general dissatisfaction with Freud’s stated change of heart and his reasons for repudiation of the seduction theory have led to a number of alternative explanations. We will briefly mention two and include some additional comments relevant to the paper we are presenting:

One prominent thesis claims that Freud abandoned the seduction theory as a result of his self-analysis, which gave him an insight into his own fantasies of incest and eventually led him to formulate the Oedipus complex.3 Lacan’s remarks from Seminar XI are of interest to us, both within this context of Freud’s self-analysis and the broader context of the theme of this conference. He says…


THE LETTER 03 (Spring 1995) pages 21-35

There was once a clever hysteric. It was the turn of the century and because she was a hysteric she went to see Dr. Freud. In fact, because she was a hysteric she went to outwit him, and to prove to him that his newly-elaborated dream theory was wrong. He had concluded that dreams always represent the fulfilment of a wish, so she brought him a dream which was the exact opposite -a dream in which one of her wishes was not fulfilled and she defied him to fit that into his theory. This was her dream:

I wanted to give a supper party, but I had nothing in the house but a little smoked salmon. I thought I would go out and buy something, but remembered then that it was Sunday afternoon, and all the shops would be shut. Next I tried to ring up some caterers, but the telephone was out of order. So I had to abandon my wish to give a supper party.

Freud devotes only four pages of his dream book to this dream, its interpretation, and the inevitable conclusion that of course it supported his theory after all. There are many things we don’t know, like why she came, how long she stayed, and what became of her. Despite this, due to the richness, as ever, of Freud’s text, there is much we do know and much more we can deduce from the text we have. By the time Lacan turns his attention to it over fifty years later and uses it in his seminar on The…

THE LETTER 03 (Spring 1995) pages 36-44

The topic of my discussion today is one which may not impinge very much on the practice of analysts, but about which, nevertheless, I think analysis has something to say. I am going to talk about those patients, ubiquitous in psychiatric practice, who suffer from “post-traumatic stress disorder” as a result of accidents and who subsequently seek financial redress through personal injury claims. I think that these patients are the “new hysterics” of our time, perhaps replacing Anna 0. and Dora and the other hysterics to whom we owe so much. As· a psychiatrist I am in the happy (or perhaps not so happy) position of having seen a lot of these patients and I hope that my comments will hold some interest for you.

Most of you will be aware that personal injury claims have increased at a dramatic rate in Ireland over the past ten years. For some, litigation is so profitable that this method of making an income is affectionately known as “The Compo”. Here, four times as many claims arise as in the UK, and our settlements are the highest in Europe. Some of the claims made on insurance companies and city corporations are deliberately fraudulent and their perpetrators are motivated only by greed. This phenomenon is not the topic of my discussion today. However, there is undoubtedly a large number of individuals who genuinely suffer injury and mental anguish after an accident of some sort and who seek compensation in court without any intent to defraud. Psychiatrists and other doctors see many of these patients as we are frequently called upon to bear witness to the genuineness of their suffering. They are extremely difficult to treat and seem to do badly in any sort of therapy, even when the therapist has no part in the provision of medicolegal reports. Analysts certainly see few of them, particularly before settlement. …

THE LETTER 03 (Spring 1995) pages 45-52

On 16 April 58, Lacan writes about Freud that his ‘only mistake, as one might say was, drawn along in a way by the necessities of language, to orientate in a premature fashion, to put the subject, to implicate the subject in too definite a fashion in this situation of desire’ This would by now be a familiar Lacanian complaint about the non-Lacanian treatment of the hysteric; that is, as I understand it, the consideration of hysteria outside the context of the construction of human subjectivity itself. Here, the non-Lacanians see the sexually-coloured excessive demandingness of the hysteric within the narrower context of some fundamental failure of the early infantile environment. If only this had been good enough, integrative enough, then there would be no need for the later pathologies of the hypersexualisation of adult life. From this perspective, then, the analytic task becomes one of re-integration of the aberrant pregenital impulses which are seen to be so disastrously disruptive of the normal happy life we have all come to expect.

Hysteria is seen, then, ultimately as deviant, demonic, dangerous -unanalysable if we take Zetzel’s fourth category. Here is the description. These patients are floridly hysterical, and unable to distinguish between phantasy and reality. Frequently, they will have been to more than one therapist. They have few areas of conflict-free interests; their defences are directed towards controlling external reality. In this grouping the developmental history will reveal one or more of the following findings…

THE LETTER 03 (Spring 1995) pages 53-66

From Marshall McLuhan to Baudrillard there is a significant strand of what has come to be called postmodernism which offers an apocalyptic vision of the effect of media on modern culture. It is considered that the multiplicity of representational images, originating in photography, accentuated by the effect of the cinema, and culminating in the ubiquity of televisual images, has on the one hand had the effect of devaluing the status of any particular image, however profound or sacred its origin, whilst, on the other hand, inciting a craving for ever fresher and ever more revealing images.

It is considered that the effect of these developments is to undermine the basis of literate culture, by shortening the attention span of individuals to an extent incompatible with the continuance of a widespread acquaintance with the heritage of this culture. As a corollary of this, it is assumed that the consequence of a severe shortening of the attention span of individuals is a degradation in their capacity to form rational judgments. This in turn leaves them open to general manipulation through the mass media, whether this takes a propagandistic, inflammatory or concupiscent form.

There are elements of truth in this vision, but it is by no means as clear-cut as the more apocalyptic of its adherents would hold. Indeed, if the plaints of these social and cultural commentators are placed in historical series and context, an entirely different light is thrown on their import. From its emergence, which we may date from the appearance and expansion of the mass popular newspapers during the latter two decades of…

THE LETTER 03 (Spring 1995) pages 67-75

Some Introductory Remarks

To begin with, I wish to highlight some of the issues relevant to womens’ lives in Ireland today, and I speak from a feminist perspective, or perhaps I should say, a hysterical position! In the last few decades Ireland has changed beyond recognition. We have moved from a largely rural and traditional society to a largely modern and urban one. The shift has been so great within such a short period of time, a single generation, from the 1950s to the 1980s, that Ireland has been considered unique within the history of family studies, a point noted in a recent ESRI research paper.l The patterns of the traditional extended family have dissolved and have been replaced by the norm of the nuclear society.

This shift has had an impact on all of our lives and womens’ role has undergone a major change. Widespread education, the influence of the media, increased living standards, however unevenly spread, and career opportunities for women have led to changes in the traditional hierarchical structures of marriage. Indeed, the very constitution of families has changed dramatically. More women are working outside the home and are financially independent. In working class areas too, more women are working outside the home, but at low pay in service industries. These are often the breadwinners in families in which the father is a recipient of Social Welfare.  …

THE LETTER 03 (Spring 1995) pages 76-99

During the late sixties and the early seventies, the intellectual talk of the town was about structuralism and the structuralists, with Foucault, Lacan and Barthes being the most prominent figures. The fact that each of these three denied being a structuralist was considered irrelevant, and added a bit of parisian spice and frivolity to the discussion.

As far as Lacan is concerned, I find it rather difficult to answer the question of whether he was a structuralist or not. In a discussion of that sort, everything depends on the definition one adheres to. Nevertheless, one thing is very clear to me: Freud was not a structuralist and, if Lacan is the only postfreudian who lifted psychoanalytic theory to another and higher level, then this Aufhebung, elevation in Hegel’s sense, has everything to do with Lacanian structuralism and formalism. The rest of the postfreudians stayed behind Freud, even returning very often to the level of the prefreudians.

It is obvious that Freud was fundamentally innovative. He operated on his own a shift towards a new paradigm in the study of mankind. He was so fundamentally innovative that it would seem almost impossible to go any further. So, if we state that Lacan operates an Aufhebung, we have to explain what we mean by that. What is there to gain with Lacanian theory?

In order to appreciate the gain, we have to return to the fundamental difficulty in the psychological study of man. Within a classical scientific approach one has to start with observation and description in order to take the step towards categorisation and generalisation. This is the approach of prefreudian and postfreudian…

THE LETTER 03 (Spring 1995) pages 100-108

Patricia McCarthy Josef Breuer, Anna O.’s analyst, at the end of his theoretical contribution to Studies on Hysteria, consoles himself and his readers regarding the incompleteness of the then current understanding on hysteria by quoting Theseus, Duke of Athens in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. While Theseus, as spectator, says of the play “the best in this kind are but shadows, and the worst are now worse, if imagination amend them”, Breuer considers his “clumsy hypothesis” on hysteria as “gaping lacunas which have been concealed rather than bridged”. these hypotheses he considers naturally defective and “must attach to all physiological expositions of complicated physical processes”. “And even the weakest (of them) is not without value if It honestly and modestly tries to hold on to the outlines of the shadows” “unknown real objects”. His acknowledgements of an irreducible unsatisfactoriness. between our representations or ideas and the thing or the process itself is a fitting introduction to this question of a trace of l’objet petit o through the case of his celebrated patient, Anna 0.

The case of Anna 0. was the first case history of the new science of psychoanalysis. It was here that Breuer demonstrated that hysterical symptoms erected themselves in the place of speech, that they could be talked away by speech. As we know, Anna 0. took this method unto herself as her “talking cure”. Essentially, this is the story of a young 21 year old woman who developed an overt hysterical illness contemporaneously with her father’s organic illness. Her father, of whom she was “passionately fond”, became ill of an affliction of the lungs in July 1880 which failed to clear up. He succumbed rune months later m April 1881. Anna 0. became ill at the same time as her father and, although she assiduously assisted her mother and the other Sick bed attendants in caring for her father for the first six…

THE LETTER 03 (Spring 1995) pages 109-124


Whatever the outcome of our debate on the existence or non-existence of hysteria, I think we can agree in advance that it will be a long time before the Hysteria Association of Ireland holds its first national appeal. This highlights the peculiar status of hysteria, which has nothing to do with the stigma of mental illness. Schizophrenia, autism and even the newly arrived M.E. all have their public profile. So why is it so incongruous to imagine a group of self-declared hysterics forming an association and delegating representatives to appear on some popular chat-show to describe themselves as suffering from hysteria and hoping to elicit public sympathy and support by detailing a list of somatic complaints which have baffled a multitude of specialists? (One man recently presented at a case conference had been under the care of 19 different consultants as well as having had a long history of impossible relationships with parents, spouses, children and colleagues.) What is this disease that dare not speak its name and which is now in the process of losing that name with the inexorable progress of scientific psychiatry?

I do not know if I am doing anything to arrest that progress by pointing out, as psychoanalysis has done from its beginnings, the irreplaceable role of myth in coming to an understanding of human reality. The analyst is cautioned that, unless he is well at home in mythology as well as other fields, he will be unable to make anything of…

Comments are closed.